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On Evaluating Curricular Effectiveness: Judging the Quality of K-12 Mathematics Evaluations
college entrance examinations do not measure some of the aims of the program under study. A frequently cited instance of this was that “off the shelf” instruments do not measure well students’ ability to apply their mathematical knowledge to problems embedded in complex settings. Thus, some studies constructed a collection of tasks that assessed this ability and collected data on it (Ben-Chaim et al., 1998; Huntley et al., 2000).
Finally, we recorded whether a study used multiple outcome measures. Some studies used a variety of achievement measures and other studies reported on achievement accompanied by measures such as subsequent course taking or various types of affective measures. For example, Carroll (2001, p. 47) reported results on a norm-referenced standardized achievement test as well as a collection of tasks developed in other studies.
A study by Huntley et al. (2000) illustrates how a variety of these techniques were combined in their outcome measures. They developed three assessments. The first emphasized contextualized problem solving based on items from the American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges and others; the second assessment was on context-free symbolic manipulation and a third part requiring collaborative problem solving. To link these measures to the overall evaluation, they articulated an explicit model of cognition based on how one links an applied situation to mathematical activity through processes of formulation and interpretation. Their assessment strategy permitted them to investigate algebraic reasoning as an ability to use algebraic ideas and techniques to (1) mathematize quantitative problem situations, (2) use algebraic principles and procedures to solve equations, and (3) interpret results of reasoning and calculations.
In presenting their data comparing performance on Core-Plus and traditional curriculum, they presented both main effects and comparisons on subscales. Their design of outcome measures permitted them to examine differences in performance with and without context and to conclude with statements such as “This result illustrates that CPMP students perform better than control students when setting up models and solving algebraic problems presented in meaningful contexts while having access to calculators, but CPMP students do not perform as well on formal symbol-manipulation tasks without access to context cues or calculators” (p. 349). The authors go on to present data on the relationship between knowing how to plan or interpret solutions and knowing how to carry them out. The correlations between these variables were weak but significantly different (0.26 for control groups and 0.35 for Core-Plus). The advantage of using multiple measures carefully tied to program theory is that they can permit one to test fine content distinctions that are likely to be the level of adjustments necessary to fine tune and improve curricular programs.
Another interesting approach to the use of outcome measures is found in the UCSMP studies. In many of these studies, evaluators collected infor-