Response - Assessment: The Burden of a Name

Richard Hake, Indiana University

I agree with the thrust of [the] essay (Madison 2001) for the 2002 PKAL Roundtable "Assessment in the Service of Student Learning":

Assessment should be done to enhance teaching, increase learning, and improve programs because it is a part of those processes.

An expert but forgotten practitioner of such assessment was Louis Paul Benezet (1935/36), a man far ahead of his (and our) time. I recently pointed out (Hake 2001a) the relevance of his work to the current "Math Wars" (see e.g., Jackson 1997, Becker & Jacob 2000, Jacob 2001) in a post "Could the Math Wars End In a Treaty of Benezet?"

A major problem with the Benezet Method, as well as any other curriculum reform, has been well stated by the late Arnold Arons (2000):

Whence do we get the teachers with the background, understanding, and security to implement such. . .(Benezet-type) . . . instruction? They will certainly not emerge from the present production mills." In my opinion, the enhancement of K-12 teaching should be the FIRST priority of education reform (Hake 2001b,c,d). Sherman Stein (1997) hit the nail on the head:

The first stage in the reform movement should have been to improve the mathematical knowledge of present and prospective elementary teachers. Unfortunately, the cart of curriculum reform has been put before the horse of well-prepared teachers. In fact, not a single article on the subject of the mathematical preparation of teachers has appeared in "The Mathematics Teacher" since the second Standards volume was published. Because the AMS and MAA presumably agree with those twelve most crucial pages . . .(pages 132-143 of "Professional Standards for Teaching Mathematics (1991)". . . these organizations should persuade mathematics departments to implement the recommendations made there. If all teachers were mathematically well prepared, I for one would stop worrying about the age-old battle still raging between 'back to basics' and 'understanding'. On the other hand, if mathematics departments do nothing to improve school mathematics, they should stop complaining that incoming freshmen lack mathematical skills.

Why do most mathematics departments do nothing? As Herbert Clemens (1998) pungently observes:

"Why don't mathematicians from universities and industry belong in math education? The first reason is that it is self-destructive. The quickest way to be relegated to the intellectual dustbin in the mathematics departments of most research universities today is to demonstrate a continuing interest in secondary mathematics education. Colleagues smile tolerantly to one another in the same way family members do when grandpa dribbles his soup down his shirt. Math education is certainly an acceptable form of retiring as a mathematician, like university administration (unacceptable forms being the stock market, EST. . .(Electro-Shock Therapy?). . ., or a mid-life love affair). But, you don't do good research and think seriously about education."