Thursday, September 06, 2007

Partial Credit

My AP is against giving too much partial credit on exams. At Friday's welcome meeting he passed out copies of a final exam from summer school and asked us what was wrong with it. Not one person in the department could come up with an answer. The questions were well written in mathematically precise language. They were typed. They covered the entire range of the course and they were not too easy or too hard. He was in shock that we could find nothing to complain about.

After a few minutes he yelled "Don't you see it? The multiple choice section is worth 24 points (4 points each) and the rest of the exam consists of 4 and 6 point questions where partial credit is given. This is ridiculous. An exam should have no more than 30 or 40 points of questions with partial credit. Besides, don't you have better things to do than to mark papers?"

We couldn't believe our ears. Sure these tests are harder to grade. But, we are teaching math. If a kid has a concept, but makes a careless mistake, why should that kid lose full credit? What are we teaching when we grade in such a way that kids will fail too quickly?

I am a firm believer in partial credit. Kids leave out signs. They hit the wrong button and get the wrong answer from their calculators. They make a small mistake in one part of the problem and then carry through to the rest of the problem. Partial credit encourages them to show their work. It encourages creative thinking. It allows you to review your work and learn from your mistake.

Last year I was given the task of getting 28 seniors through the Math A regents. These kids had not passed a math class since freshman year. I got 27 out of 28 through and most passed just by doing the multiple choice. I've perfected the art of teaching to the test and in this case, teaching to the multiple choice on the test. My kids could even get the correct answer to a factoring problem as long as their were choices available. Did they pass and graduate? Yes! Did they learn any math? Absolutely not (except for two or three of them). Could they have done this without the choices, on the problems where partial credit is given? No way.

I know how the teachers in my department feel about this. I am wondering how other math teachers in other places deal with the partial credit dilemma?


Anonymous said...

The old PAM test given to 5th graders would take off points for leaving out a symbol (like a $) even if the answer was correct. I believe the new rubrics do the same thing.

Anonymous said...

My preference is to eliminate multiple choice altogether, unless they are 1 point each, and generally only if they are recognition-type questions. What you said. A sign error, a concept error, a small arithmetic error, all end up with the same score.

The math I teach involves good process and good answers. My assessment (see, I can use their words!) is congruent. It better be.

The teachers I work with most closely feel the same way.

Jackie Ballarini said...

Multiple choice tests tell me how well a student has learned to take tests. Free response questions tell me what a student has learned well and with what he/she still struggles (if it is a well written test).

No partial credit? No way.

I do think however, that there needs to be consistency as to how partial credit is given. 70% to one teacher could by 40% to another.

Catherine Johnson said...

Besides, don't you have better things to do than to mark papers?

shoot me

maths teacher said...

Over here in Scotland, they are just about to reintroduce an element of multiple choice into our big final examination (the "Highers", sat more or less pre-University) after something like a 25 year absence. Most maths teachers I know (myself included) are very much against it, though the students don't seem to mind. We can't help but think that part of the reason is that it will be cheaper to mark these (National) exams as a result.

Julia S. said...

This dammit partial credit makes me realy sorry for the Russian goverment. Tommorow going to give notice to appeal.

Anonymous said...

If I have my decimal in the wrong place on my tax form, the government will not give me partial credit, They will however give me fines, fees, and penalties. Its a cruel harsh world.