Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Partial Credit: Pros and Cons

Yesterday a colleague and I were discussing the article in the Post that "revealed" what I imagine most teachers knew already: wrong answers to math questions on state exams can be given partial credit if a student can show that he or she arrived at the wrong answer with at least some understanding of how to get the right answer. The "shocked, shocked" reaction of so many folks to that article confused me. I don't teach math, but I teach another subject (social studies) that, despite having clearly right or wrong answers to questions, can allow for partial credit.

Over at GothamSchools, the news is not so much the article itself but the thoughtful commentary. Commenter bronxmathteacher offers a reasoned defense of granting partial credit, particularly in math, with which I agree. In order to give kids credit for critical thinking and closely assessing where they are in mathematical development, it makes sense to recognize progress, even if the "computation," as bronxmathteacher puts it, is not all there.

The problem, as this individual correctly points out, is the politicization of the test scores. Students who would not have taken the Regents before are taking them now, and while many of those students are benefiting from increased opportunity and higher expectations, some of those students are not equipped to take the test. That's not so much a problem in and of itself, but when the "cut scores" (the minimum number of points required to pass) are made very low, what you end up with is a dumbed-down test and pass rates that mean little when students can get few answers actually correct and still pass the test. Then, the pass rates are used to inflate graduation rates and other statistics. Looks good on paper, but not much, if anything, has changed for those kids.

As a non-math teacher, I don't read or understand much about teaching math. But this post was crystal clear to me, and it concerned me.
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