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Topic: Evaluation
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Robert B. Davis

Posts: 22
Registered: 12/6/04
Posted: Apr 28, 1995 8:51 PM
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I guess the discussion of "evaluation" deserves a longer and more thoughtful
note than I can ever find time to write, but in fact I HAVE thought about the
matter for years. I never doubted the tests I took as a college student, nor
the tests I gave when I taught at MIT. (Perhaps I should have...) But at
the opposite extreme, it seems to me, are the standardized tests that so many
people appear to believe in. An MIT calculus test tested a few sepecific
things - like integrating by parts, say - which seemed important to nearly
everyone, and were rather well defined, and were clear expectations.

That all seemed OK. But I watch what happens in schools in response to
parental pressure on test scores, and it is usually a DISASTER! Whatever it
is that the tests are thought to test becomes THE curriculum. That puts far
too much emphasis on the things that are tested, and removes all interest and
attention from anything that seems unlikely to be on the test.

But even that is not what's worst of all; the worst thing is that many
and supervisor believe that they are helping their students if they can raise
the student's test scores, even though this may not involve teaching actual

I have used elsewhere the actual example who wanted students to know that,
in the numeral 2.10, you could omit the final zero (forget significant
figures and all like that), whereas in the numeral 2.01 you could NOT omit
the zero. The teacher told the students to think of the decimal point, and
the final "1", as BOOK ENDS, that hold the 0 in place, whereas in 2.10 there
not the necessary pair of bookends, so the zero can simply role away.

This (and MANY similar instances) may involve raising test scores,but without
actually teaching any mathematics.

Often teachers feel compelled to spend LARGE AMOUNTS OF THEIR TIME ON THIS
-- [sorry, my caps key got stuck[ ... to spend LARGE amounts of time on
this sort of thing. this adds up to making mathematics incomprehensible.

I guess what I really feel is that we all need to ask WHY any particular test
is used. In many cases, there is no really good reason. In other cases,
where it might be important for a teacher to understand exactly how a student
is thinking, most usual tests don't give you enough imformation. This is
why my colleagues and I make so much use of videotaping students as they work
on mathematical tasks - from which we often get some really valuable
information about the thought processes of that individual student, and this
is often exactly what we need if we are to help the student in the best
possible way.

You can think of many GOOD reasons for some kind of assessment or evaluation
or "testing" - and there certainly are many! -- but just doing it because it
is presumed to be a "good thing" is NOT a good idea! And when testing IS a
good idea, you need to be sure that the test is giving you the kind of
information that is appropriate for that specific goal. "Routine" testing -
the sort of thing parents and politicians seem so fond of - is very often NOT
a good thing. In fact, it is often a harmful ritual, or a vote of
no-confidence in teachers, who are presumed to be ready to do the wrong thing
unless we keep testing their students. I prefer to look for teachers who
are good enough to know what really is appropriate for each student, and who
are usually harmfully limited when people who do not even know these students
presume to dictate what the students really need.

Bob Davis
Rutgers University

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