What Does an Exam Tell Us?

Exams are tools that can be used to assess a student's learning. When a teacher prepares and gives a test to his or her students, it is to gauge how much learning is occurring inside the classroom. Standardized tests are given to a larger population. The objective is to be able to compare students from different classrooms, from different schools, and from different countries. These standardized exams are different from those provided by a teacher especially for his or her classroom. The exams cannot really be used for individualized assessment. Standardized exams are not meant to inform a teacher at a classroom level. Standardized exams are for assessing school systems and curricula. For this reason, it is important to look into what the standardized exams actually contain in order to get the proper message. What does an exam really tell us?

An example is the Mathematics exam of Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2003. The Philippines participated in this exam and with the dramatic changes in basic education in the country, it is time to ask if the reforms that have been introduced are indeed correctly responding to what this exam was telling the Philippines back in 2003. To rehash, the Philippines did not perform well in both Grades 4 and 8. (The tables and sample questions presented in this post are copied from Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2003.)

Grade 4 Math (TIMSS 2003)

Grade 8 Math (TIMSS 2003)

What is inside these exams is briefly described in the following table:

And here are the sample questions (how students from the Philippines performed are included):

Grade 4 Math

Grade 8 Math 

The predicament in the sciences is similar. Given the sample questions above and their corresponding results, we can now address the question of whether the Philippines has taken the right direction. And the answer to that question is a clear "no". These are problems that are present at Grades 4 and 8. The above are basic questions in mathematics. One can easily make up a curriculum that covers these basic concepts and skills in math. But the fact is that students are not learning. Why? The answer does not lie in what we think we should be teaching the students. There is poverty. There is hunger. Classrooms are crowded. Textbooks are not available. And yes, teachers do not receive the support they need.


  1. Cristopher Ian D. CapistranoMay 13, 2014 at 9:38 PM

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