MARS comes to McAuliffe

“We must ensure that tests measure what is of value, not just what is easy to test. If we want students to investigate, explore, and discover, assessment must not measure just mimicry mathematics.” (1989, p 70) Everybody Counts, National Research Council

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Yesterday afternoon, I joined a group of about thirty parents, and school staff members from McAuliffe and around the district to score our students’ Mathematics Assessment Resource Service (MARS) assessment. As members of the Silicon Valley Math Initiative, we administer the MARS assessment (MARS for short) to our students once a year in early March. 

What is the MARS?
The MARS is”…a summative math performance assessment to measure students’ ability to solve non-routine problems, explain and justify their solutions and promote high level thinking skills. Student work is analyzed so the thinking and misconceptions can be reported to the schools to inform teachers and support improved instruction. Each year the results of the MARS exam are reported to all stakeholders in the school system.” (SVMI – http://bit.ly/YGqFEH)

Everyone evaluating our students’ performance received extensive training on each problem and that included calibration to ensure consistency and high levels of integrity.

How does the MARS differ from our current STAR/CST assessment?
The authors of the standards we have used since 1997 were tasked with creating standards using language that could only be assessed by a multiple choice test, (California Standardized Test or CST). As a result, the current state test, the CST is an all multiple choice assessment.

The MARS, on the other hand, is a performance-based assessment. There are no multiple choice answers here. Instead students are asked to engage in non-routine problems. There are often several problems derived from a particular theme or topic. Many of these ask for an answer and an explanation of how the answer was derived. We believe this type of assessment is much more powerful and fosters real world learning experiences for our students.

Where does the MARS come from?
For us, the MARS began a number of years ago when we became joined the Silicon Valley Math Initiative. MARS is a long-running research and development collaboration of people at Michigan State, Berkeley and at the UK Shell Centre for Mathematical Education. (http://bit.ly/16ZByCk)

How did the scoring go?
Well…considering the volume of assessments we scored, it is exhausting! I really want to thank everyone that came out. Your efforts help to provide our teachers with a tremendous amount of useful data on where our students strengths and challenges lay!

I continue to be impressed by the varied and outside-the-box approaches our students take in tackling problems. While I can’t share the details of the assessment, I had a good laugh when I read about the student who, in their process explanation, stated that they “put on their crazy glasses” to consider the problem from a different angle because that’s how they roll. Good for them!

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