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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

UMass Boston adopts a new testing system for students’ math placement

Marietta  Schwartz
Marietta Schwartz

The Assessment and Learning in Knowledge Spaces (ALEKS) is a new exam being implemented to replace the existing math placement test at the University of Massachusetts Boston
The previous testing system consisted of a sequence of questions designed to assess the competence of a student proved to be “complicated,” thus the change was made, explained Marietta Schwartz, Associate Professor of Chemistry, College of Science and Mathematics.
The implementation of the ALEKS exam began in May 2014. All first year, transfer, and non-degree students who have not met their college math requirement took this test.
According to Schartz, ALEKS is an adaptive assessment exam with 30 questions and takes approximately two hours to complete.
Schwartz explained that the first questions asked draw from across a wide curriculum, and appear to be too easy or too difficult depending on the students’ mathematical background. As the assessment proceeds, answers are used to give the system an idea of the students knowledge, and gradually focuses the questioning in an appropriate way to accommodate individual skill levels.
The assessment has no fee and can be taken as many as five times. After the first test is taken and a placement assessment has been received, a student must wait 48 hours to re-take the placement exam.
If a student finds a third assessment exam necessary, it is required that the student spends a minimum of three hours “utilizing the Preparation & Learning Module” to prepare and review, as stated on the University of Massachusetts Boston website.
ALEKS’ built-in Preparation & Learning Module is a useful tool recommended for all students to utilize before taking the exam, as it can provide students with a practice curriculum before taking the test. This added advantage may also give a struggling student the extra resources to excel, available to the student for six months. This feature and many others appealed to the Math Placement Exam board.
ALEKS scores will be posted on WISER, along with a detailed report explaining each student’s strengths and weaknesses in order to give an idea of skill level and determine which classes can be taken or what material requires further review.  
As this is the first semester UMB will be using the ALEKS system, the administration will be polling students who have used it to see if the new placement analysis was accurate, and if the recommended measures were fitting to the student.
Schwartz said that the only concern with ALEKS concerns off-campus academic honesty, because the test is taken online. No aid materials are allowed during the test, but students can use them without anyone knowing.
Schwartz’s replied to the threat of academic dishonesty, “If a student cheats, all it is going to do is place you in a class you are not ready for.”