Saturday 30 October 2010

Are you smarter than a year 12 student?

Aus_Autarch left a fascinating (and horrifying) series of comments on one of my earlier posts. The gist of it is that you can get a pass by scoring 16 out of 160 in your final high school exams. I thought a pass mark was 50% - how little I know.

Here is the comment in full:

It is far worse than that. According to the statistics at the official site of the Victorian Department of Education (VCAA), 94.5 percent of individuals undertaking the senior mathematics stream (Mathematical Methods (CAS)) pass ( link. ).

Correlating this pass rate with the previous data shown of the percentages to attain specific grades ( link. ), and assuming that the students who did not attain a pass were also those attaining the lowest grades, it appears that a student needs to get approximately 16 marks out of the available 160 to be passing.

Checking further, you can see the actual exam (( link. ), and see that 22 of the questions, are multiple choice. It is not impossible to attain the necessary marks by sheer random selection and be in the passing range without demonstrating any knowledge under examination conditions.

This is the most pessimistic outlook, however. It is necessary, for the purposes of realism, to accept that it is unlikely that a student achieving such low scores is unlikely to continue their education into a study that would have a mathematical pre-requisite. This then does bring up the question of why it was necessary to award a statement of satisfactory completion, if both the demonstrated competence and potential need for the qualification are both absent...

As a layman, let me see if I can unravel this. If I stuff it up, please let me know in the comments.

For starters, exams are no longer the be-all and end-all of your results. Coursework now accounts for a certain amount.

Second, exams now have lots of multiple choice questions - a problem when you need 50% to pass, but not a problem when you only need to get 16 correct.

Third, a fail is no longer 49% and below. A "C" used to mean 50% or more. Now, it appears to mean 43% or more. WTF!!!

Just for fun, I went to the Board of Studies site and did a test exam with 50 multiple guess questions. The course was Latin - something I know less than nothing about. I chose "C" for every answer - and got 22% correct. Which is about what you'd expect. It took me about 2 minutes to tick those 50 answers and come out with 22%. In this day and age, that counts as a "D".

I also tried two sample exams in subjects I know something about - got over 85% in both of them, and it took me less than a quarter of the allowed time to finish the exams. Not bad, considering I've never studied the current curriculum for either subject.

Here is the first link that Aus_Autarch provided - it's the results from the Victorian 2009 Maths exams. Don't ask me what all that Maths is - I had a look at the exam papers, and none of it made sense. I know that I studied it 25 years ago, but I haven't used any of it since, and it's all leaked out of my brain.

What the table below is telling us is that over 95% of students doing this course were awarded a "satisfactory completion". Yippee, you say - lots of smart kids who know a lot of Maths.

I suggest you hang on to your chair - the results are less than pleasant. Because what we need to find out is this - what exactly is a "satisfactory completion"?

The next three tables provide some idea. The first table gives coursework scores, and the next two are the results from two exams.

Coursework is graded out of 100. A "C" is 43-51 out of 100. Unbelievable. 22% scored less than 51%.

Exam 1 is out of 80. A "C" is 24 out of 80 or above - 30% in other words. 30% scored less than 33 out of 80. 46% got a C+, ie, scored 34-45 (42.5% - 56%). Let's just assume that 40% didn't score 50% in this exam (are you following me?)

Exam 2 is out of 160. A "C" is 60-73 out of 160 - 37.5%-45.6%. Interestingly, 37% scored a "C" or lower.

How can it be then that over 95% of students doing this course got a "satisfactory completion"?

The incredibly depressing answer appears to be that the "pass mark" in order to get a "satisfactory completion" is a "D" or better.

Here is what a "D" is worth:

Coursework - score of 20-31 out of 100.

Exam 1 - score of 9-14 out of 80.

Exam 2 - score of 34-46 out of 160.

In other words, it's possible to scrape a "satisfactory completion" by getting a total of 63 marks out of 340. That's 18.5% correct in your coursework and exams, and 81.5% wrong.

Oh, fuck me. We're doomed. As I showed with the Latin exam, if the kids are doing a lot of multiple choice exams, they could get a "satisfactory complete" almost entirely by putting down "C" as their answer.

If you want to test yourself, have a look at this exam paper for "Further Mathematics". It's 100% multiple choice. Whatever happened to working out the answer, and showing your full working?


cav said...

We are mere mortals BOAB, the academics are in charge of everything. They are the experts.

We know nuthin'.

After Nashos I studied accountancy at Randwick tech.

I recall we had a barrister teaching us law and an executive from the tax office teaching us tax law. Full time teachers took us for most accounting subjects.

These guys were very experienced and were able to pass on a lot of information. The barrister was German and often told us stories about the 'crooks'. It was very easy to apply a German accent to such terms as 'the insurer and the insured' I think I still do it today.

Exams were pass or fail at the end of the year. You needed 70% to pass in some subjects.

Financial accounting in one year had two exams, both three hours each.

Still it wasn't perfect... I still don't fully understand source and application of funds. And I had a terrible time with cost accounting.

Most questions involved accounting calculations based on some information supplied and you sometimes had to work out further figures based on that information.

All I used to do was do all my calculations, and if it didn't balance, and I couldn't work out why; I'd chuck in a few assumptions and my figures would balance.

Maybe I should have been a politician.

Or an academic.

Aus_Autarch said...

It is worse than you have said; I'm not communicating well the worst part of the situation:

All exams and assessed coursework have no bearing on passing (or failing) the course. Satisfactory completion is dependent solely on completing assigned (non-assessed) coursework, such as appropriate textbook exercises, assigned homework and any other requirements of the assessing teacher.

Note that this is deemed to determine competence without any required form of time-delimited assessments such as examinations. Some teachers require that students achieve a pass in assessed coursework, but the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) require that any student failing a coursework assessment opportunity be provided with opportunities for "redemption".

Redemption means that a student is provided with an opportunity to resit the failed (or a similar) assessment again.
If the student fails this redemption attempt, they must be provided with a second attempt, after receiving the support of the teacher (usually a correcting and feedback session).
If this attempt (the second) is also unsatisfactory, they are (frequently) provided with a third opportunity, under "altered circumstances" - usually meaning that they receive some form of support during the assessment. This usually means that they are allowed to bring in additional materials (such as a textbook or other source of information).
If this (third) attempt is unsuccessful, usually a parent or guardian is requested to come in and discuss the issue and provide a final opportunity for the student to demonstrate understanding. Only if this process is unsuccessful does a student receive a "not satisfactory" and thus fail an outcome (and thus the subject).

Note that if a student "passes" after redemption, they receive the "grade" of UG (ungraded), not a standard (A-E) letter grade.

On a slightly more positive note, the data does show that the lower passes (C - E) are skewed downwards; the upper grades (B - A) are relatively intact and do represent (when achieved) a reasonable level of competence in the material covered. I'll leave for another day the degradation of content in the courses for another day. Suffice it to say that the course you studied in higher mathematics bears only a limited relationship to the demands of modern assessment.

Boy on a bike said...

Cav, I've studied some accounting too. I could never get my P&L, ledger and balance sheet to balance out. I was useless at it.

Dad studied Law in the old days. Most of the teachers were practising lawyers, including judges and prosecutors. You were taught Law by someone that you might end up in court with, either working with them, against them or in front of them.

As for exams, all the professional exams that I have sat over the last 10 years require 70% to pass. Some courses in our industry are right bastards, and require 80% to pass. When I meet someone with those particular qualifications, I know that they know their shit.

Aus_Autarch said...

So, to continue the bad news, even with the most (hypothtical) strenuous of teachers, a student can receive an official statement of competence in senior advanced mathematics (a Victorian Certificate of Education, VCE, with mathematics) with a performance that under any reasonable conditions would not be deemed as any form of mastery. You will note that you cannot actually "fail" the assessment portions. The worst that can happen is that the student is awarded an Ungraded (UG).

The worst part of this that although the information is technically available to the public, the awareness is not present. A potential employer reading a VCE graduation certificate which indicates a satisfactory completion of mathematics would make the not unreasonable assumption that this was a sanctioned statement of mathematical competence. Even the above hypothetical stringent teacher is complicit in this deception.

(ps. I am not refering to myself as the strenuous/stringent teacher; I am fully aware of the context in which I work and make the best of the situation).

Aus_Autarch said...

Cav & BOAB,

The only professional assessment I did (prior to going into education) was network administration training (don't laugh...) and even the pass for that was 90%.

It was an exam which had a cost to undertake (over a hundred dollars). I made sure that I was ready before I handed over the money. As it is the cost of assessment in Victorian secondary (state) schools is entirely supported by the taxpayer, and as such, it seems that the assessed don't seem to take the opportunity (or the qualification) seriously.

Boy on a bike said...

Yes, all the industry exams that I've sat have cost at least $100 to sit. At least they generally give you two attempts for your hundred bucks. Some cost $300 or more.

Out in the real world, exams are expensive, very demanding and a hell of a lot fail at the first attempt - usually about 40%. They really are a method for sorting the sheep from the goats.

Anonymous said...

I can't be bothered reading all of the comments and therefore am unaware of their contents, so if my point has already been made, forgive me. However, your remark 'whatever happened to working out the answer, and showing your full working?' unsettled me, regarding the Further Mathematics exam. Yes, *EXAM 1* is 100% multiple choice. You neglected to note that there is in fact an Exam 2, which is entirely SHORT ANSWER, where 'full working' is expected to obtain full marks. As a student who has just sat this exam, I wanted to make it known that even though I elected to do the lowest math stream, my fellows and I are not entirely stupid.

Aus_Autarch said...


While I am sure that you and your fellows are not "entirely stupid", you have come in at the end of a conversation that has a lot of information. That you are willing to publicly express a contrary opinion without reading all the information provided (and stating that you have not, with no recognition that this is inappropriate)is part of the attitude that I am challenging.

Furthermore, you might be interested in the information that has been presented, as it pertains to the grades that you and your fellows will be awarded for your efforts.

Please understand that I am not trying to be dismissive or contemptuous, just that it might be appropriate for you to consider what information is in discussion before jumping in blind, as it were.

bh said...

Here's a question from Monday's Further Maths 1 multiple choice exam (paraphrased from memory) - X paid $140 deposit, paying off the balance owed at $25.50/month for 24 months. How much did X pay in total?

This is Grade 5 stuff!