Thursday, December 2, 2021

Changes in 2022 and beyond in Upper School Mathematics

Five emerging themes in 2022 are of some concern in Mathematics and the severity will depend on the implementation by SCSA.  These are not new to 2022 but may be a surprise if you are not familiar with them.

- The requirement to embed design requirements (general capabilities) in classroom programmes
- The reduction in assesments per course to 8-10 assessments per year
- The requirement to follow the Mathematical Teaching Process, Statistical investigations or Theoretical investigations in ATAR
- Grading in Essential and ATAR courses
- Intended purpose of Applications and Methods

They are listed in order of prediction of impact from lowest to highest

General Capabilities  
<rant>General capabilities assist with the design aspects of a course.  A well designed syllabus has the general capabilities written in such that they flow naturally through the programmes of teachers.  If we are having a discussion (again) that general capabilities are not being implemented by teachers and displayed by students then the design of the course is the problem, not the application by teachers </rant over>.

Likely Impact: Minimal as teachers will ignore instructions about general capabilities as they can't be measured and have little/no positive impact on the course results.

Reduction in assessments per course to 8-10 in 2023
Statistically creating fewer data points, will reduce the reliability of results in mathematics.  This has the potential to reduce the correlation of class and external exam marks from the enviable position of Mathematics compared to other courses to among the same lines.  

Given the requirement of two of each type required

Year 11 (Four terms)
Investigation: 2 items
Response: 4-6 items
Exam: 2 items

Year 12 (Three terms)
Investigation: 2 items
Response: 4 items
Exam: 2 items

This is 1-2 response task per term.

The is not significantly different to current programmes albeit I prefer to have an additional investigation as the marks are more variable than response tasks and skew the distribution.

Suggestions made by SCSA to not assess dot points (which has always been done to some degree) or include assessment of content in investigations (I'm not even sure how assessment of content can work within an investigation as that is not the aim of an investigation) were put forward as good alternatives to response tasks.

Teachers are already talking about ways around the new requirements, specifically to combine recording of assesssments (one assessment with parts held two weeks apart).

The rationale for this by SCSA was to decrease the anxiety of students (using Physics as the example of 17 assessments) but I am not sure that creating more high stakes testing (as weighting is much higher with fewer assessments, likely to increase anxiety) will achieve this especially as encouragement was made to increase ungraded formative assessment through EPW style investigative learning practices.

The stated goal of reducing dot points in Unit 1 of Methods 11 is more likely to reduce student anxiety.

Likely impact: Reduction in reliability of Mathematical correlation between class and exam marks to level of other courses.  Reduction in number of investigative tasks given.  Lower SD in class marks in during investigative tasks to minimise impact (likely based on work ethic rather than capability). 

Mathematical Teaching Process
The ongoing faddish discussion about embedded critical thinking through Mathematical thinking processes continues with the encroachment of MTP in ATAR courses since 2018.  Until now the definition was fairly wishy washy and could be worked around.

Investigations have now been informally categorised as Statistical investigations, Practical Applications and Theoretical investigations each following a similar process to the old Mathematics in Practice (MIPS) approach.  Whilst I am a big supporter of the MIPS approach in a MIPS type course, imposing the time requirements of this approach on a student and the subsequent reduction in mathematical application during an investigation that it imposes is detrimental to an ATAR course.

Likely Impact: The watering down of theoretical style investigations continues in Methods.

Grading changes
The statement made by SCSA presenters was that in ATAR and General courses, the difference in an A, B and C style question is not content related but is related purely on how the question is asked and the amount of scaffolding given.

This makes a mockery of the differential in Mathematical ability required to complete each course particularly evident in the difference between Applications and Methods.

The rationale given was that scaling would compensate for this - but it doesn't if the gap between courses increases beyond the 5% mean + 5% of course total scaling given - Methods students are penalised for doing harder work (rather than rewarded).  

Given an A, B or C in Methods is significantly harder to achieve (due to content continuing to be learned at a faster pace than Applications requiring a more difficult sequence of learning), it is hard to fathom how the way a question is asked and subsequently answered, fairly and adequately assesses the level of a student.  To reduce it to this does not replicate the alignment currently required by ATAR assessment via understanding displayed in the external exam and the assessment completed to achieve similar class marks.

Likely Impact: This will need to be rethought.  It is not a good idea and will not be replicable under exam conditions without a blowout in Methods marks.  Students in 50-57 Methods range (exam and class) in Year 11 are achieving 80% (65% after scaling) in Applications - and this is being told to students by course counsellors, reducing retention in Methods courses.

Rationale of Methods and Applications
Universities have knobbled interest in Specialist courses (there is little desire during mining slumps) by reducing pre-requisites outside of engineering (or even in engineering in some cases) and now are doing similar to Methods courses.  Students are discouraged from attempting ATAR Methods by counsellors as it is not required for their courses and complete the easier ATAR Applications instead.

Intended level of difficulty (increasing to left)

Foundations            Essentials                    Applications/Methods                   Specialist

In a discussion with SCSA staff post meeting it was stated (and themed throughout the presentation) that Applications and Methods are aimed to be delivered at the same level (and the grade related descriptors show this) but for different purposes (eg Applications for biological sciences/humanities students, Methods for Physical Sciences, Specialist for Engineering students).

If this is the case Methods and Applications require a significant re-write (and I don't believe this is the intent as this was stated in the presentation) as they do not meet this purpose.  Whether Methods needs to come to the level of Applications or the Applications course requires a complete rethink (this is my belief) is not clear.

Likely impact: This will need to be rethought.  Scaling will negatively impact students whilst this is poorly understood and implemented as per 2020.  Return to a hierarchy of Foundation -> Essentials -> Applications -> Methods -> Specialist in a future iteration of courses is likely.

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