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Topic: On-line placement exams
Replies: 14   Last Post: Aug 1, 2012 12:26 PM

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Fred Siegeltuch

Posts: 19
Registered: 10/7/05
Re: On-line placement exams
Posted: Aug 1, 2012 10:38 AM
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I respect your position and believe I understand your motivations though I ultimately find your recommendations for my specific institution (and I suspect many others) to be wrong. Let me get a bit more specific. We use the COMPASS and not just for placement in math. If there wasn't the concerns of having sections close out by allowing just anybody to register for any course, students getting discouraged because they get into a course that is too difficult, and the waste of time and money of both tax payers and students, I would gladly get rid of placement testing. As it is, I am seeking to scale it back and make it much more of an advisory and motivational function rather than a hard and fast rule. As a former full time math faculty now working for the administration, I'm looking to move placement testing into control of the math department with tests that they can develop / copy / steal on their own to be a part of advisement that is still simple
enough that it can be carried out by less mathematically incline people with less teaching experience (if any) and still done it a registration / placement office. I just don't believe what you seem to take as fact, namely that the so much randomness inherent in any placement test that it is useless for this purpose. I'd love it if we could do advising on a purely individual, personal level. But since I know there will not be enough funding for that anytime soon, I'm not going to let the lack of a perfect solution prevent me from changing things to at least get to a better solution. While I feel your pain, sometimes I wonder if your strong inclination not to work within the realm of what is politically possible is also one of the major barriers to change.

Thanks to all who responded to my inquiry.



From: Alain Schremmer <>
Sent: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 1:30 AM
Subject: Re: On-line placement exams

On Jul 31, 2012, at 4:07 PM, Fred Siegeltuch wrote:

> The same way many of us do in the rest of life, namely a combination of trying to minimize and control it along with accepting the fact that often we cannot. The lack of perfect solutions shouldn't stop us from trying to get better ones when there is substantial reason to believe that better ones exist.

> P.S. For someone who is worried about randomness I find it curious that your are able to assert a causal relationship between being 'pragmatic' and our current situation / location :-)

(1)    Perhaps incorrectly, by "pragmatic" I meant the following attitude which always refer to "the lack of perfect solution":

    --The standard response to any proposal is to point out that what is being proposed is not perfect if not pie in the sky. Therefore, we might just as well carry on with whatever we are doing..

    --The standard response to any criticism is that in the absence of a perfect solution, we might just as well carry on with whatever we are doing.

In other words, everything in the real world is whatever it could possibly be and there is neither a need for, nor a possibility of, change.

(2)    For once, I find myself in accord with Treisman: a test where an unknown but most probably a considerable number of responses are random is a scam. What we do after this "placement" is bound to be a disaster.

(3)    The causal relationship is the following. First, since it was clear that the placement tests had essentially random results, we declared this to be a hard fact of life, even if an unfortunate one. Second, since we could not rely on the placement, we relied more and more on the students' assumed ability to memorize nonsense. Again, we declared that to be the necessary result of a hard fact of life, even if an unfortunate one. Third, we never tried to rely on the students' intelligence. This was declared to be completely unrealistic and obviously only possible in an ideal world.

(4)    Given the results of what we did and did not do for forty some years, it is not surprising that people began to be upset. The fact that they turned to testing to check on the teachers was rather to be expected. What else could they ask for? We had a lot of time to straighten things out. But, no, we kept on going towards the current atomized, senseless stuff we have the gall still to call mathematics. And now we are upset.

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