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Agenda for Action: Measuring Success

Recommendation 5
The Success of Mathematics Programs and Student Learning Must Be Evaluated by a Wider Range of Measures than Conventional Testing

The first purpose of meaningful evaluation in school mathematics should be the improvement of learning programs, teaching, and materials. Educators must evaluate to have information for sound decisions, to be accountable to their public, and to know how well they are doing. Evaluation is a part of mathematics teaching, and hence mathematics educators should be centrally involved in the evaluation process.

Evaluation is not limited to testing. It includes gathering data and interpreting the data. Testing is one source of data. There are many others. Today, many people use test scores as the sole index of the quality of mathematics programs or of the success of student achievement. Test scores alone should not be considered synonymous with achievement or program quality. A serious danger to the education of our youth is the increasing tendency on the part of the public to assume that the sole objective of schooling is a high test score. This is often assumed without the critical knowledge of what is being tested or whether test items fit desired goals.

The evaluation of problem-solving performance will demand new approaches to measuring. Certainly present tests are not adequate. In particular, the measuring of the use of problem-solving processes will demand innovative techniques. Evaluation of programs with problem-solving goals must be sensitive to the nature of those goals.

It is imperative that the goals of the mathematics program dictate the nature of the evaluations needed to assess program effectiveness, student learning, teacher performance, or the quality of materials. Too often the reverse is true: the tests dictate the programs, or assumptions of the evaluation plan are inconsistent with the program’s goal.

Recommended Actions  

5.1  The evaluation of mathematics learning should include the full range of the program's goals, including skills, problem solving, and problem-solving processes. 

  • The evaluation of the use of problem-solving processes must be given special attention by schools, teachers, researchers, test developers, and teacher educators.
  • Assessment programs, such as the National Assessment and some state assessments, should continue to sample a wide variety of mathematics learning outcomes and should consider future as well as present needs and programs.
  • The development of problem-solving skills should be: assessed for each student over the entire K–12 school mathematics program.
  • Minimal competencies should not be construed as an adequate measure of an individual's mathematics achievement. What is minimal for all is optimal for none.

5.2  Parents should be regularly and adequately informed and involved in the evaluation process. 

  • With mutual respect (the educator for the sincere concern and valid input of the parent and the parent for the professional expertise of the educator), school administrators, teachers, and parents should cooperate in determining educational goals and the appropriate plan for evaluation.
  • Nontest evaluation methods and strategies should be discussed with parents, students, and the general public.

5.3  Teachers should become knowledgeable about, and proficient in, the use of a wide variety of evaluative techniques. 

  • Preservice and in-service teacher education should provide mathematics teachers with knowledge about, and skill in, evaluation. 
  • Evaluation strategies that include both test and nontest techniques should be developed and disseminated to mathematics teachers both in their initial preparatory programs and in continual in-service updating.
  • Teachers should improve their diagnostic skills and their ability to structure appropriate remediation.
  • Student strengths and weaknesses should be assessed on a regular basis, using a variety of measures and techniques.
  • The informed judgment of teachers should be considered a vital part of the evaluation of any student.
  • Teachers should be prepared in the development and use of teacher-made tests.

5.4  The evaluation of mathematics programs should be based on the program’s goals, using evaluation strategies consistent with these goals. 

  • Standardized tests should be used in program evaluations only when it can be clearly demonstrated that the test matches the goals of the program. 
  • The results of a test designed for purposes other than program evaluation (such as the SAT) should not be interpreted as an evaluation of mathematics programs.
  • Available evaluation and testing techniques should not determine the goals and objectives of the mathematics program or the emphases of classroom instructional effort.
  • Test designers should give attention to the need for more options in format than the conventional multiple-choice formal. An emphasis on problem solving demands more flexibility and creativity in assessment than is possible within the restrictions of most current test formats. Where minimal competency tests are mandated, they should be implemented with extreme caution to assure that adverse effects on the program do not result.
  • Task forces involving parents, teachers, and students should be created to monitor the effects of minimal competency programs.
  • Mathematics educators should be centrally involved in the development of competency or assessment programs at local, state, and provincial levels and in the monitoring of the effects of competency testing on mathematics learning.
  • Longitudinal evaluation of individual problem-solving ability should be developed. The acquisition of problem-solving skills is a long-term process and should not be evaluated solely with short-term measures.
  • Test scores should not be used as the sole index of success in mathematics programs.
  • Accreditation of school mathematics programs should use criteria specific to the quality of the mathematics programs rather than to conditions peripheral to content and instructional goals.

5.5  The evaluation of materials for mathematics teaching should be an essential aspect of program planning. 

  • Textbook materials should be judged and selected in terms of the program's goals rather than vice versa.
  • Instructional materials with sexist and ethnic biases should not be selected.
  • The selection of tests should involve a careful review by teachers as well as administrators.
  • Strategies for evaluating nonprint materials must be developed and used.

5.6  Mathematics teachers must undergo continuing evaluation as a necessary component in improving mathematics programs. 

  • Teachers should maintain an awareness of the need and the strategies for self-evaluation.
  • A variety of supportive evaluation strategies, such as peer observation, supervisor observation, and videotaping, should be made available to the teacher.
  • Any evaluation of mathematics teaching should be sensitive to the instructional goals and should be unique to the content, the teacher, and the class.
  • If an evaluation of a teacher's effectiveness includes student performance, the measures of student performance should be consistent with instructional goals. Such evaluation should also consider that there are external factors affecting student performance that are not amenable to teacher influence.
  • Judgments of teacher competency are necessary but should be made with caution, with the realization that the validity of most existing measures rests on a shaky foundation.
  • Teachers and teacher educators should be centrally involved in the development of instruments for the evaluation of teaching effectiveness.

5.7  Funding agencies should support research and evaluation of the effects of a problem-solving emphasis in the mathematics curriculum. 

  • The nature of problem-solving ability suggests that longitudinal studies will be most meaningful. The more typical short-term project may force a hasty and superficial treatment of programs whose objectives must be complex, interrelated, and of a long-lasting character.

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