NCTM Denver 2013: Foegen et al.'s Building Progress Monitoring Measures for Algebra: Exploring Items and Scores

Research Presession - Tuesday, April 16, 8:30 am

Anne Foegen - Iowa State University
Barbara Dougherty - University of Missouri, Columbia
Vickie Spain - University of Missouri, Columbia
Jeannette Olson - Iowa State University
Subha Singamaneni - Iowa State University

One of the essential challenges in measurement is to design an instrument that captures the maximum amount of information using a minimum amount of time and resources. (Hint: You can't have both.) While I agree with Lorrie Shepard (2000) that "good assessment tasks are interchangeable with good instructional tasks" (p. 8), there can be room for other kinds of assessments for specific purposes.

This collaboration between researchers at Iowa State University and the University of Missouri, Columbia, is attempting to develop a set of algebra assessments for progress monitoring that students can take in a matter of minutes and can be graded by a teacher equally quickly. Part of the goal is to create the kind of progress monitoring instrument that would be useful for Response to Intervention (RtI). It's definitely something that is needed, as I remember once being told I had to use a simple arithmetic assessment for RtI (for high schoolers!) because an algebra version did not exist for the RtI system the district was using.

We spent time in this discussion session talking about the tasks on both the procedural and conceptual progress-monitoring instruments. While some of the problems were certainly interesting in the way they tried to address student thinking, most of the instruments looked very, very traditional. There is a heavy focus on symbol manipulation and almost nothing comes associated with even a hint of context. Yes, a math student with strong formal skills would do well on these assessments, but I couldn't help but think they're missing something in their approach. That feeling was probably best summarized with the question I asked them: "This assessment looks like something designed for students of Saxon textbooks. How would you feel if that is the case and your instrument is used to promote Saxon texts?"

I left reminding myself two things: (a) projects at the end of the first of a federally funded project are still very much at the learning/big revisions stage and (b) they wanted a test that could be taken in 5-7 minutes, and they got one. If there's something impressive about this effort, it's probably that this team seems to have come to grips with the reality of sacrificing some quality for efficiency. They're pushing themselves to make the best <10 minute algebra tests they can, and I hope their end result is useful, or, failing that, helps us better understand practical limits of assessment.