Halifax – Is the average provincial math exam mark 39% or 47.8%? According to AIMS latest commentary the answer is both, and neither.
The latest Commentary from the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS) provides school by school results on provincial exams for the 2005-06 Grade 12 Academic and Advanced Math courses in Nova Scotia. The Numbers Don’t Add Up shows that some schools do a lot better than others.
This year’s Minister’s Report to Parents announced that Nova Scotia students had an average mark of only 39 percent on the 2005-2006 Grade 12 Academic Math exam, and an average of only 51 percent on the Advanced Math exam. But the report only provided school board by school board data, not the school by school results. The newly released information shows the actual average grade given to students was 47.8% for the Grade 12 Academic Math exam and 55.5% for the Advanced Math exam.
“Based on the Minister’s Report to Parents you would think that every board and every school was in crisis,” says Commentary author, AIMS Senior Policy Analyst Bobby O’Keefe, “These school by school results tell a very different story. Does it appear that a school like Saint Patrick’s High School, with an average mark of 75 percent, is having the same kind of trouble with math as many other schools? Surely the phones should be ringing off the hook at St. Pat’s as their peers from across the province try to learn why and how they are doing so much better than the rest of the province?”
O’Keefe says such information is finally being collected by the education authorities after a five year battle by AIMS to have these data released to the public. However, he emphasizes the basic problem remains. Administrators aren’t using the data to identify the problems and the solutions.
“Students learn in schools not school boards, school level data tells us far more than board level data ever could. It lets stakeholders see where weaknesses exist and areas that need work. It also allows everyone to identify strengths, and be proud of and celebrate successes,” writes O’Keefe. “It would seem to make sense to examine what these schools are doing right and share that knowledge with other schools that are struggling.”
The Numbers Don’t Add Up explores why there are discrepancies between the marks awarded to students and the results reported by the province. All provincial exams are marked by the classroom teacher and that is the mark the student receives. However, a sample of the exams is sent to be centrally marked, and it is the average of those exams that is recorded by the province. It is this sample, designed only to give valid information about board performance that has been reported to the public over the last number of years. In some cases the difference between the average mark awarded to students by the school and the average on a sample of exams marked centrally by the province is over 14 percent.
“Given the differences in the reported and actual averages at the board level, one has to ask which results tell the real story of what is happening where it matters most – in the schools. Unfortunately in this scenario the answer is neither,” says O’Keefe.
Unlike in neighbouring provinces, Nova Scotia does not centrally mark all exams to ensure consistency and comparability of results. Nor does the province or the school boards collect the results from all of the exams in order to get a complete picture of what is going on. Schools are left on their own to draw incomplete conclusions from the limited information made available to them,
“We have been pretending for years that Nova Scotia has standardized testing and central reporting,” says AIMS acting president Charles Cirtwill. “The veil comes off of that statement today. The department and the boards must explain to the public why we expended the effort to design these tests, why we forced our teachers to mark them and our students to write them, and then we abandoned the exercise. We don’t collect and therefore we don’t care about the results. Why did we stop short of making full and effective use of this tool? “
The Commentary estimates that centrally marking all provincial exams would cost less than $170,000. That amounts to less than one percent of the increase in public spending on education over the past five years and barely registers on the province’s $1.15 billion education budget.
An interim first step, and one the province started last year, is to centrally collect and release all of the school level results for students writing provincial exams. Cirtwill applauds that move but says “we are long past the point of needing to take first steps”.
To read the complete Commentary, click here.
For more information, contact:
Bobby O’Keefe, AIMS Senior Policy Analyst
902-429-1143 ext. 222
Charles Cirtwill, AIMS (acting) president
Barbara Pike, AIMS Director of Communications
902-429-1143 ext. 227 / 902-452-1172