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Assessment in Maths.  Statement from the IMU
Posted:
Dec 5, 2013 3:33 PM



******************************* From the The Electronic IMU Newsletter <imunet@mathunion.org>, IMUNet 62: November 2013  A Bimonthly Email Newsletter from the International Mathematical Union. Editor: Mireille ChaleyatMaurel, University Paris Descartes, Paris, France ******************************* 1. EDITORIAL
As students we are taught the importance of rigour and precise proofs in mathematics, and those of us who are now teaching mathematics try to transmit this to the next generation. Providing detailed assessment of written work is an important part of this process; this task can be time consuming and requires considerable care and attention, but it is a somewhat easier one in mathematics than in most other sciences or in the humanities, since an answer to a mathematical question is more clearly either correct or not. I have actually noticed that the fact that evaluations were "fair" is frequently mentioned when mathematicians remember what made them then prefer mathematics to other subjects in high school.
This commitment to rigorous and fair assessment resurfaces in various ways in academic life. For example, mathematicians themselves prefer to be the ones who make editorial decisions in our main journals. This contrasts with some other scientific disciplines whose major journals, including Science and Nature, employ professional editors rather than relying on the editorial judgement of active scientists.
Interdisciplinary panels tasked with evaluating the scientific output of individuals are a common feature of today's academic world. Usually, if not always, mathematicians who sit on such panels have the impression that the evaluation criteria come from a foreign planet. Arbitrarily defined bibliometric indexes and impact factors often seem to virtually automatically govern important decisions, which, in many cases, decide allocation of large sums of money. Furthermore, the members of evaluating panels can have very limited understanding (to say the least) of the actual work that they are evaluating. All this seems in total contradiction with the foundations of our conception of science, and can indeed have devastating direct repercussions on the science produced (since meeting the criteria of these artificial evaluation rules would become the main goal to achieve, instead of the intrinsic quality and originality of the research output).
While evaluation is in general a sensitive subject and a difficult task (a complete consensual guide on "how to evaluate" would probably be impossible to produce), it is important to remain firm on the basic principles, particularly that it is neither fair nor efficient to evaluate something that one does not understand. It is therefore essential that we continue to resist pressure from governing bodies, universities and other institutions that try to implement semiautomatized evaluation procedures.
IMU plans to release soon a short statement stressing these basic principles. I hope that this will be a useful tool for all of us who have to plead this cause.
Wendelin Werner Member at large of the Executive Committee of IMU
**************************************  Jerry P. Becker Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction Southern Illinois University 625 Wham Drive Mail Code 4610 Carbondale, IL 629014610 Phone: (618) 4534241 [O] (618) 4578903 [H] Fax: (618) 4534244 Email: jbecker@siu.edu



