Friday, June 26, 2015

Government Exam destroys passion

Below is an article written by a teacher after the 2015 Grade 9 PAT (Provincial achievement exam)

Feeling frustrated, and so I imagine parents and kids are too. Today was one of the toughest grade 9 PAT math exams I've seen in awhile. I saw tears, frustration, and a very sizable chunk of kids needing extra time to complete the exam. Saw kids whose class marks are in the 90's get hammered and scrape by with barely over a 60%.
So dear Alberta Education, here's my rant; instead of patting yourself on the back by writing convoluted, multi-step, detour questions, many of which require correctly calculated intermediary answers, all in the glorious effort to inspire multidimensional thinking heavily dependent on simultaneous synthesis of several curriculum outcomes, how about you keep it a little simpler?
How about just a few more straightforward knowledge based questions?
How about instead of knocking kids way off balance to the point they lose their confidence, you limit the amount of "higher order thinking" questions to 1 out of every 10 or so?
Because once the students' confidence is gone, they're done. I saw 2 outlier questions - one of which was asked in the first 5 questions - that gave me pause, and I teach the damn course!
Quit using the June PAT as a field test on kids stressed out enough about their next journey into high school. Ridiculous. They're not your guinea pigs. Stick to just a little more straightforward assessments. Please.
Hard to "inspire" kids to learn when you obliterate them on a government exam


  1. He isn't wrong, that exam sucked!

  2. On the other hand (and there really is another hand here), if those questions are well-conceived and constructed, they might point the way out of the morass of math-as-facts-to-be-memorized approach that we've been stuck in for a century or more.

    However, for that to work there has to be a shift in the way people perceive assessment. That includes teachers, kids, parents, and other interested parties. It has to be part of the learning cycle and ONLY part of the learning cycle. The main purpose of assessment as it stands is grounded in punishments and rewards: pure behaviorism at its worst and most nakedly simple-minded. So sure, your students give up after a few questions that aren't just like what they've been spoon-fed to do for their entire lives, instead of fearlessly doing whatever sort of thinking they can and letting the chips fall where they may. If they're not going to be punished for "failure" because "failure" isn't the point, then maybe they'll actually do what kids naturally do if it hasn't been programmed out of them: they play, and that includes playing with puzzles, games, ideas, etc.

    I can't comment on this particular exam, because I've not seen it. But I don't think the answer is to make 90% of assessment into safe little morsels of facts that kids can regurgitate. If you're going to do that, what does ANYONE learn? And why bother with the 10% that isn't just that sort of thing, since it will be clear to kids that those are just for show. No one to speak of will make the effort to succeed on such questions except for the math geeks and the occasional kid with no fear who actually enjoys thinking.

    You want some safe questions that everyone will get effortlessly? Make that your 10%, the warm-ups to get the kinks out before actually doing something worth doing. But of course in a safe environment/culture that nurtures thought and risk-taking. And punishes no one for doing just that.

  3. I am not surprised to see this. However, as a high school math teacher, what I see all too often is students that had 90% in junior high and a 60% on the PAT come in to my Math 10 class and score in the 60's; I have found through experience that the marks that junior high students earn on their PAT are very accurate in representing that student's true ability as these PAT marks are usually within +/- 5% of the grade that they earn in my Math 10 class. In fact, at the start of every school year, when I have to screen the grade 10 students to see whether they belong in the regular Math 10 stream or the lower-level Math stream, I consult ONLY their PAT marks. I never, ever, ever, bother looking at the school awarded grade 9 math mark.

    So at this point, you have to ask yourself, are the PAT exams at fault or is there perhaps something else at play here?

    If you haven't done so already, I would strongly urge you to read the C.D. Howe institute report entitled "What to do about Canada's declining math scores" by Anna Stokke. You can find it at the following link: