The Prince Edward Island Department of Education released the Primary Mathematics Assessment results yesterday. These are the results of testing of students who were in Grade 3 in 2009-2010 and were tested on their mathematics skills in October 2010.
There were 1,295 students tested, and the results were as follows:
- met expectations: 68%
- approached expectations: 12%
- experienced difficulty: 20%
Here are three news headlines that resulted from the news release announcing the results, Results from Primary Math Assessments available online:
- Numbers add up for Grade 3 students and math testing: Currie
- Education minister pleased with math results
- Young Islanders meeting standards in mathematics
There was a similar story in Nova Scotia in 2008, reporting on that province’s grade 3 math assessment; in that case the headline on the CBC was Nova Scotia Grade 3 students struggle with math.
In that story the lede was “One-third of the children tested last year did not meet expectations in the province’s first Early Elementary Mathematical Literacy Assessment.” Which turns out to be almost exactly the same number of students “not meeting expectations” in Prince Edward Island’s assessment.
So in Prince Edward Island the minister is “pleased,” the “numbers add up” and students are “meeting standards” whereas, with the same result, in Nova Scotia student are “struggling” with math.
My problem, as a parent of a student in this group, is that I have no idea of who’s right on this: should I be pleased with the results, or concerned? Are our children being well-schooled in math or not? Do the results mean that 32% of 9 and 10 year olds in the province can’t add, or do they mean that 68% could go on to become mathematicians?
And this reveals the problem with standardized testing, especially when the results are wrapped in fuzzy words like “met expectations” that are useful for public relations but of little utility to parents. I remain unconvinced that there’s any utility at all in testing students like this, especially given the resources and attention that the testing takes away from actual education, and that the results can be spun to mean anything you want them to mean.