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MAA/Maplesoft Placement Testing Package Expands

Bernard Madison

A shorter version of this article appeared in the February/March 2011 edition of MAA FOCUS.

A new research-based Calculus Concepts Readiness (CCR) examination highlights the expanded offerings of the MAA/Maplesoft Placement Test Suite (PTS) developed over the past two years. Other enhancements include multiple versions and parallel forms of eight additional tests and documentation on use and effectiveness of the tests as placement instruments. Current efforts focus on creating parallel forms of CCR, writing free-response test items, expanding availability of sample items, providing information resources for PTS users, and developing two additional research-based tests.

Currently the PTS offers more than 400 fundamentally different test items sorted into the following tests: Arithmetic and Skills (A-S), Basic Algebra (BA), Algebra (A), Advanced Algebra (AA), Trigonometry and Elementary Functions (T), Calculus Readiness (CR), Calculus Concept Readiness (CCR), High School Elementary Test (HS-E), High School Intermediate (HS-I), and Graphing-Calculator-Based High School Advanced Test (HS-A).

Multiple static parallel forms are available for each of the tests except CCR and calculator versions of A-S, BA, A, CR, and the high school tests are available. Algorithmic forms of the first six tests are available, thereby creating the capability of generating thousands of forms that are highly similar, essentially parallel. Counting the calculator versions, there are 22 tests of 25 to 32 items. Parallel forms of CCR are currently being developed. The Maplesoft delivery system, Maple T. A., allows for custom composition of a test from all the items available as well as for adding items written locally.

Over the past few months, the MAA’s User’s Guide (sixth ed., 1998) was revised and updated into a new 29-page seventh edition. This is now available on maa.org/ptp/ and on maplesoft.com/products/placement/. In addition to offering the User’s Guide, Maplesoft has a guide for using Maple T. A., the Maplesoft system that delivers the tests.

Reviving past practices of MAA committees, members of the PTS project team conducted minicourses on placement testing at both MathFest 2009 in Portland and MathFest 2010 in Pittsburgh. Both minicourses attracted a full contingent of participants, indicating that departments continue to struggle with the difficult issue of effective mathematics placement.

The long-term development plans for the PTS include additional research-based tests analogous to the CCR at the levels of beginning algebra and college algebra and item types other than multiple choice. Work on the first will require external funding, and proposals are in process. Modifying existing items into free-response items will be the first phase in achieving different item types that can be machine scored.

Over the past 10 years, there have been no new user surveys and limited publishing of case studies of mathematics placement testing programs. Participants in the MathFest minicourses indicated that they need such information to guide work at their institutions. Providing information to users and prospective users of PTS as well as documentation of the effectiveness of PTS tests is ongoing work of the PTS project team and ad hoc task forces.

One of the hurdles departments and institutions face is the cost of more extensive and remotely delivered placement testing. The PTS pricing system is based on a cost per student, not the more common cost per test. The cost per student varies according to numbers and other arrangements; and it covers the use of any of the PTS tests and the testing of the student multiple times. Representatives at Maplesoft (contact info@maplesoft.com) will provide details and an in-depth demonstration of the system to prospective users. A portion of the fees paid to Maplesoft are passed on to the MAA and are used to support the development of the PTS.

Background for PTS

In 1977, in response to growing diversity in mathematical backgrounds of entering college freshmen and increasing numbers of possible entry courses in college mathematics, MAA instituted the Placement Testing Program (PTP). From 1977 until about 1990, PTP was shepherded by the Committee on Placement Examinations (COPE) Then COPE was reconstituted as the Committee on Testing (COT).

From 1977 to 2000, various task forces of MAA members developed multiple forms of six college mathematics placement tests in Arithmetic and Skills (A-S), Basic Algebra (BA), Algebra (A), Advanced Algebra (AA), Trigonometry and Elementary Functions (T) and Calculus Readiness (CR). In addition, three tests—High School Elementary (HS-E), High School Intermediate (HS-I), and High School Advanced (HS-A)—were developed for use in high schools by colleges and universities for prognostic placement testing. Over this time, approximately 400 colleges and universities subscribed to PTP and used PTP tests for placement decisions.

In addition to providing tests, COPE and COT produced the PTP Newsletter, which reported on PTP developments and contained results of surveys of PTP users and articles on placement testing programs at PTP user institutions. COPE and COT also conducted minicourses at MAA meetings on placement testing. In 2000, faced with the difficulty of competing in an increasingly crowded commercial testing arena, MAA discontinued PTP but allowed the approximately 180 current PTP subscribers to continue using existing PTP tests for placement decisions of their entering students.

In 2005, MAA entered into a partnership contract with Maplesoft to market and deliver by way of Maplesoft’s computer testing systems the current MAA placement tests and tests that would be developed. Basically, MAA provides expertise in developing products, and Maplesoft markets and delivers these products, now called the Placement Test Suite (PTS), online.

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