Common Exam as Inquiry

November 13, 2008

While one would think that mathematics would be less susceptible to the problem of coordination and grade variability (it is, afte all, more “objective” than reading and composition), that turns out not to be the case. Math teachers also vary in how they teach and how they grade, creating similar concerns about whether all their students are getting the preparation they need. [Some] mathematics programs at SPECC colleges have been experimenting with common exam questions among different sections of a course, or–as the mathematics department at Glendale Community Collge has been doing in pre-collegiate algebra since 2000–administering a completely common final examination. In the case of Glendale, the effort has created opportunity for inquiry both in creating the exam and studying the results. As Carnegie senior scholar Lloyd Bond notes,

the very process of developing and coming to consensus on an assessment framework, along with the deveopment of exercises and a scoring rubric, all tend to get faculty on the same page about what is important for students to know and be able to do. (Lloyd Bond, “The Case for Common Examinations,” 2007)

When the scores scores are in for the semester, individuals can see how their students are doing in comparison to others. And, because the scores are also disaggregated by item (for example, negative exponents, complex fractions, or geometry word problems on the elementary algebra exam), the group can look at the combined results over the years to see which topics are still causing students trouble, and where they are doing better. “The entire project,” Bond concludes “stimulates faculty discussion and reflection in ways that did not occur before” (2007).

Adapted from Mary Taylor Huber, The Promise of Faculty Inquiry for Teaching and Learning Basic Skills. A Report from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

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