Conveying information about student achievement in a subject is a complex matter. It is easy for institutions to describe the content they offer and the content a student studies; it is difficult, however, to describe the content that a student has learned and can apply - but we owe it to our students to try.
With this objective in mind, I’ve been part of a number of discussions during the past few months about transitions in math from school to work. It quickly became obvious that there is a communication problem among institutions, primarily because each institution works independently in the development of the curriculum it offers.
Curriculum development starts, or should start, with an analysis or identification of skills practiced in the field or in the role for which learners are preparing; such statements are neutral; each can be studied at a number of levels. Decisions about how, when, where, to what level for what applications come later and depend on the interest and needs of users. Although I have a number of lists in my possession as I write, all are abbreviated and fail to tell the whole math story.
Given the emphasis on transition, it may be timely for providers and users of math instruction (schools, employers and postsecondary institutions) to get together and develop a common math map – that is skills, outcomes or competencies that make up the field. Such a map would ensure a common language of communication without impinging on anyone’s autonomy. With map in hand, profiles could easily be struck identifying each users’ requirements. Part of the initiative could also benefit from a discussion of common assessment criteria, rating scales, benchmarks and reporting requirements.
The problem is unlikely to solve itself; additional leadership is called for, some positive but light- handed direction or influence is needed to draw people out of their silos and into an exercise of helping students document what they know and can do.