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Reporting Success: Do Standardized-Test Scores Tell All?

IMP® teachers are often asked about their students' performance on college entrance exams, such as the SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test) and PSAT. In each region where the curriculum is currently taught, test scores are being collected according to the school district's requirements. To date, reports confirm that IMP students do as well as, and sometimes better than, students in traditional mathematics course sequences on standardized tests. This observation is especially significant, as IMP students devote 20–30% of their classroom time over the four-year span of the curriculum to learning important topics that are not covered in traditional curricula (such as statistical reasoning, use of matrices, and fundamentals of calculus).

We also receive reports from selective college-preparatory magnet schools such as Philadelphia's Central High School, where standardized-test scores are high for IMP students. Both 1995 and 1996 analyses of PSAT test scores at Central indicate statistically significant higher scores among IMP students than among students enrolled in traditional mathematics courses.

In 1995, an analysis comparing 10th grade IMP students with non-IMP students at Central High showed IMP students' mean scores to be significantly higher, not only on the mathematics component of the PSAT test (483 vs. 463) but also on the verbal test (514 vs. 487). In 1996, eleventh grade student scores on the PSAT were evaluated, again showing IMP students doing better on both tests. The average mathematics score of IMP students was 544, while the average for students in traditional courses was 522. Verbal scores were 551 for IMP students and 529 for traditional students.

Preparing students for baccalaureate-level course work goes well beyond meeting standardized test requirements. Developing extensive skills and knowledge, as well as the ability to tackle intellectually challenging problems, is a long-term process.

In Central High classrooms, and in every IMP classroom, teachers evaluate student performance using multiple sources. Performance criteria are established, so that students demonstrate mathematical achievement and understanding not only through unit exams, but also through performance tasks, portfolios, writing assignments, and oral presentations. Rather than relying on the comparison and ranking of one student with another to determine success in mathematics, teachers focus on working with each individual student to meet high expectations according to a balance of achievement measures.

While there is a place for norm-referenced, standardized tests in the educational system, it is also necessary to address the individual needs of students in order to refine their own progress toward understanding facts and concepts in mathematics.

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