Assessment Disgrace

Originally posted on Figuring It Out by J. Bevacqua

I’m frustrated and angry.

 Just today I read a Mathematics 10 Provincial Exam Study Guide written by two Canadian educators (one from BC and the other from Alberta) published by a large, well known, publishing company.
In the section titled “To the Student”, there is an explanation of and rationale for provincial exams.  It states:

Most provincial exams are designed to evaluate a students proficiency  in the curriculum at different levels.  In some jurisdictions, for example, a mark of 50% denotes competence, and mark above 80% is considered to indicate excellence.

It is expected that students will demonstrate different levels of competence.  In fact, most jurisdictions design exams so that: 

  • 20% of of students who write exam do not pass (score less than 50%)
  • 60% of students who write the exam score between 50% and 80%
  • only 20% of students who write the exam demonstrate excellence (score above 80%)

For this reason it is important for individual students to set personal goals and use this goal to help them decide which questions are within their ability.  For example, if you expect to score at the 70% level, then 30% of the questions on the exam or test are not written for you.

This is disgraceful.
Where do I begin?
This is a required exam for students.
So much for standards based grading.  The bell curve is alive and well.  Somehow engineering what success looks like is good for students, teachers and the discipline of mathematics.
Assessment for Learning? Forget it.  We use assessment to label students  – 20% of them as failures and 20% as winners.
The growth mindset?  What’s the point – some students will forever “decide” their ability in Math.  Apparently, some students will always be failures.
And we wonder why so many students struggle with and/or “hate” Math.
I could go on – but I’m afraid I might write something I will regret.
I am not aware of the design standards for the Mathematics 10 exam in British Columbia, but I hope that the above design elements are NOT used here.
IF these are the design standards for the Math 10 Provincial Exam, please stop.  The discipline of mathematics, our students and our teacher deserve better.


  1. Ken Hakstol said:

    This is very disappointing but not surprising. I’m hopeful with the curriculum redesign that we were moving away from this type of high stakes testing. I hope the political will to follow through with what has been started will hold.

    June 29, 2013
  2. […] was one post from the set of blogs given to us that did touch me as a math educator. It was Assessment Disgrace from the blog Connected Principals. In agreement with the author, the topic of the post was […]

    June 30, 2013
  3. Rob Smith said:

    It’s always helpful to know that some teachers, some students, and most administrators are successful despite this type of thing.

    I wonder if the assessment is geared to select the best math students, at least the best at taking assessments.

    Is there a better way to do it? I’d like to really dig in and help students learn, and to engage them in their unique talents and skills?

    How can we help the student avoid the impact of this type of “design?”

    July 2, 2013
    • Lateefah said:

      Did you read this article? Here is an excerpt…

      By Elisabeth Hulette
      The Virginian-Pilot
      © August 17, 2012


      A group of black legislators is taking issue with new testing targets the state has set for public schools that for some races and other demographic groups are much lower than for others.

      The targets are part of a waiver Virginia recently received from the federal No Child Left Behind law. For example, the new target pass rate for Asian students in reading is 92 percent, while for black students, it’s 76 percent. Until now, the targets had been the same for all students.

      “This ‘aim low’ approach is both insulting and narrow-minded in its approach to doing what is in the best interest of children,” state Sen. Mamie Locke, chairwoman of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, wrote in a letter to the governor. She said the state NAACP shares the caucus’ concerns.

      “Schools will never improve or close the achievement gap if this is the approach to be taken,” she wrote.

      State officials countered that expectations are still the same for all students because all take the same Standards of Learning tests and have to meet the same requirements for graduation.

      July 3, 2013

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