Pros and Cons of Math Placement Tests

Taking a math placement test has long been associated with the anxiety of college admission, but math assessments have evolved over the years to give educators crucial information about student progress in K-12 as well. A basic math placement test is used to determine how much students know and how well they know it. Although they may initially be seen as a means of finding out how advanced or behind a student may be in math, in reality the primary purpose of an assessment for math is to determine each student’s educational needs. There are both pros and cons to this approach.

PRO: Data-driven decision making
When math placement tests are administered, they can generate concrete information about student knowledge that can then be implemented as a key component of data-driven decision making. This collection of data enables teachers to restructure their curricula anytime to accommodate the various needs of the students in their class as they grow and change academically. Data-driven decision making has been shown to initiate major changes in teaching and learning practices in an effort to improve student achievement.

CON: One more test

Following the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act, high-stakes standardized testing has become much more commonplace. Students must pass yearly assessments to prove that they have learned the standards that the state or country have mandated for that grade level.

Although proponents of standardized tests argue that they are an effective means of measuring student achievement, opponents argue that students are not only being over-tested, but that this approach causes educators to teach to the test. As a result, engaging in math progress monitoring by having students take placement tests each year may be one test too many for many parents and their children.

PRO: Measure progress
While the standardized tests that students take can give teachers important data indicating what their students do and do not know, this math progress report often comes too late to make a difference in the curriculum of current students. As a result, teachers are beginning to turn to technology based, intelligent adaptive learning systems to measure student progress in their math studies throughout the year. The real-time reporting of relevant data allows teachers to ensure that instruction is meeting the educational needs of each student, and to adapt their approach if necessary,

Have math placement tests proven to be effective in your classroom? Share your thoughts with us!

Kelly Urlacher

Curriculum Designer at DreamBox Learning
Kelly Urlacher began her career as a sixth grade teacher in Sammamish, WA in 2002. Shortly after, she received her Master’s in Education with an emphasis in Technology and Curriculum Development. After years of dedicating herself to students and education within the classroom, she earned her National Board Certification in 2009. Kelly currently works as a Curriculum Designer for DreamBox Learning and continues tutoring high school students in mathematics.