It’s easy to find plenty to dislike about MCAS, but I was particularly struck by the cogency of Sanjoy Mahajan’s piece entitled “Public School Math Doesn’t Teach Students How to Reason.” Aside from the usual arguments against MCAS — it takes time away from learning, it puts the cart before the horse, it encourages teaching to the test — Mahajan’s point is that it doesn’t actually test mathematics and therefore has a negative effect on the teaching of mathematics. I particular like this paragraph:

Maybe this test obsession will be okay if the tests themselves are good. Ever hopeful, I studied an MCAS test’s mathematics section. Alas, the questions do not even resemble mathematics. For me, mathematics is about exploring patterns and using numbers and quantitative relationships to understand how the world is put together. However, the MCAS test is to mathematics as disconnected notes are to a symphony.

Mathematics is supposed to teach abstraction, quantitative reasoning, functional and other relations, and logical thinking about patterns. But MCAS does very little to further any of those. Here is Mahajan’s last paragraph (but do read the entire essay):

A powerful, general mode of reasoning is just what mathematics can and should offer to the world. In contrast, the high-stakes tests’ offer what American physicist

Richard Feynmanmight have called cargo-cult mathematics. They use numbers and mathematical operations, they look like mathematics, but the substance is missing. By teaching to these tests, we are teaching students disconnected notes and calling it a Bach fugue.

Categories: Math, Teaching & Learning