The establishment of a quantitative literacy program is expected to go hand-in-hand with an attendant assessment procedure. By assessment procedure we mean an explicit means for obtaining information on the program's impact on student development. This information can then suggest modifications in the program which may lead to enhanced teaching and learning. Assessment is a mechanism to guide and encourage improvement. Thus assessment procedures may evaluate individual components of the quantitative literacy program as well as the program as a whole.
There are many problems involved in assessment in academia in general. Fears abound that assessment efforts will lead to the exposure of glaring weaknesses in our educational process or clearly identify individual or group shortcomings which can be moved into political arenas where such findings may be abused. Further, our society's understanding of the role of mathematics and its content may differ widely from that in the academic community. However, open discussions in the media and leadership at the national level are working to improve understanding and foster systematic and convergent change. The diversity within our society makes it critical that the mathematics community act in a cohesive and responsible fashion. Thus conducting and acting on assessment procedures should be a normal part of our activity.
Assessment must be sensitive to reality. The recently announced new national goals for science and mathematics represent a lifting of expectations in a time of changing demographics, technologies, and global challenge. The problems of background, equity, accessibility, cost, ethnicity, and gender are important considerations in making an assessment, but they do not determine standards for student performance. Students with weak backgrounds and students from underrepresented groups in higher education do not need different standards, but they need effective programs through which they can reach appropriate standards. Carefully constructed assessment procedures should seek to measure the effectiveness a program has for all the students in it.
Assessment should be based on what we understand about how students learn. It is more than mere testing as commonly used in classrooms, because it seeks to dissect the components of student learning rather than simply evaluate final performance on mathematical tasks. The section on the dynamics of quantitative literacy in Part III suggests five aspects of intellectual competency which need to be considered. Efforts should be made to determine how effective a quantitative literacy program is in fostering the development of each of these aspects.
Assessment should fit the nature of a quantitative literacy program using methods which reflect the type of learning to be measured, rather than methods which are most easily constructed or scored. For example, if students are to learn how to respond to open-ended problem settings, they must be asked to do so in the assessment procedure. Facing them with a multiple-choice test for the measurement of such a goal would be inappropriate.
Assessment should be an integral part of the teaching-learning process and not an add-on. Students learn from good assessment methods what they are being asked to learn while teachers obtain feedback on not only what students have learned, but how students have learned it or aspects of learning which need further attention. Thus assessment is carried on throughout the students' progress through the quantitative literacy program to inform the teaching and learning rather than being a measure of student accomplishment at the end of a program cycle alone.
Another principle on which assessment is based for quantitative literacy programs relates to the interdisciplinary character of such programs. Since quantitative literacy programs are expected to be interdisciplinary in character, assessment methods should reflect that intent--clear applications- oriented tasks should be present in the methods.
Assessment should also provide opportunities for students to demonstrate what they know and can do in a variety of ways. Offering students a variety of ways to demonstrate learning ensures that a measurement can capture what students have really learned rather than that they can respond to a particular type of evaluation method. Further, a variety of approaches can better capture how students construct knowledge and match with student experiences and needs.
Developing a valid assessment procedure may be considered to be very costly in both faculty time and money. We recommend, nonetheless, at least a minimal program aimed at the extent to which the quantitative literacy program helps students reach the goals (1)-(5) in Part II.
An outline of a process to follow in assessment of either the total quantitative literacy program or its components follows:
We recommend that assessment data be gathered at least at two other times in the student's progression through the program--at the completion of the student's foundation experience and within a semester of the student's degree program completion. A meaningful sample of the data gathered should be analyzed each year by an appropriate faculty committee charged with making recommendations for actions which lead to program improvement.
Where it is feasible, we recommend that a senior assessment study be made which seeks to measure attainment of the goals (1)- (5) of Part II by a process of the following nature:
(i)The main ingredient in the assessment should be a project where the objective is to answer certain questions and to draw conclusions on the basis of presented data. Students would be expected to analyze the data using whatever mathematical or statistical tools are appropriate, and then make those predictions and conclusions that seem reasonable. Students should be expected to conclude with a summary of the project in writing. While the project should be long enough to serve its purpose, it is not expected to be more than something which might be completed in a day or two.
(ii)In addition to the project, the assessment should contain a variety of short answer questions related to the goals (1)-(5), formulated in such a way that students are required to explain their answers and justify their conclusions.
(iii)To the extent possible, questions should be presented in a problem context so that students must choose which tools are appropriate to solve the problem and then in the course of the solution demonstrate that they can use these tools.
In instances where upper division courses are used to complete the quantitative literacy program, those faculty who teach such courses might be asked for a judgment of student success in meeting goals (1)-(5). Scoring guides with samples of student work at different levels of quality can be provided to guide the judgment process.
Other possible methods for obtaining assessment data include gathering student portfolios, studying student journal writings, interviewing random groupings of students, conducting group examinations, and requiring senior oral presentations or examinations.
Whatever the assessment process, it should be subject to periodic review also. Hence an ongoing board or committee should coordinate assessment activities and interact regularly with all groups responsible for the quantitative literacy program.