Mastery vs IB Assessment

Exams make me depressed.

Every December and June (for grade 11) and December and March (for grade 12) I spend a lot of time creating an assessment that follows the objectives of my course and meaningfully assesses student proficiency in the required skills, and knowledge of the required information.

And every December and June, and December and March, the results are disappointing. It doesn’t seem to matter how much we review. I think the Modeling approach is helping with comprehension of ideas, but it isn’t translating into perfect test scores.

I’m clearly not alone in this. For IB science and math courses, the “excellent” grade of 7 is awarded to students who get more than ~70% of the questions correct on their exam (adjusted yearly, there is also the IA, etc). The passing grade (a 4) is ~40%. And according to the IB Statistical Bulletin, only 8% of students will get that elusive 7. And 39% of students won’t even get the 4.

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The problem, I think, is an impedance mismatch between the IB grading system and my own mastery-oriented expectations.

The IB system is designed to assign a rank to students, for the purpose of university applications, mainly.  A 7 student needs to be clever, clever, clever. The average student, who can satisfy most of the curricular learning goals, is distinguished from the 7 student through trick questions, overly-specific grading rubrics, demanding that students memorize definitions, and even a few unsuitably-hard questions. Such a system is fine — we expect the SAT and IELTS to deliver such a ranking, for example.

My expectations as a teacher, however, and my sentiments as someone close to the learner, are a bit different. We see the examination as an opportunity to demonstrate the students’ mastery of the curricular content — not as a test to put the student in his/her place. For us, it is heartbreaking when students get less than 7 — and when the 7 they get is 70% instead of 95%.

I’m not an excellent teacher, but I’m getting better. Hopefully, soon, my students will go into an exam with full and deep understanding of everything they need to know. I hope that they achieve the scores they deserve, when they undertake that examination.

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