Late last year we posted on Madness in the 2017 VCE mathematics exams, on blatant errors above and beyond the exams’ predictably general clunkiness. For one (Northern Hemisphere) exam, the subsequent VCAA Report had already appeared; this Report was pretty useless in general, and specifically it was silent on the error and the surrounding mathematical crap. None of the other reports had yet appeared.

Now, finally, all the exam reports are out. God only knows why it took half a year, but at least they’re out. We have already posted on one particularly nasty piece of nitpicking nonsense, and now we can review the VCAA‘s own assessment of their five errors:

- Mathematical Methods Exam 1 contained an utter hash of a question, with a fundamentally misleading graph and a (for Methods) undefined endpoint derivative. The Report makes no mention of the error or the dodginess of the graph. Students scored an average of 5% on the question.
- Mathematical Methods Exam 2 contained, twice, a type of question which previous years’ reports had suggested to solve invalidly. This year’s Report approaches the question validly the first time and then ducks the question with a dubious technique the second time. (More on this in a future post.) The Report makes no mention of the previously acceptable invalid approach, or whether that approach is still considered acceptable. Students scored an average of 66% on the first question (suggesting the invalid technique is secretly still acceptable) and 5% on the second.
- Specialist Mathematics Exam 1 contained a doubly improper integral, which cannot be done with Specialist techniques. The Report makes no comment on the error and, in light of the error, the Report provides no clue as to what was expected of the students, nor what was accepted from the students as correct. Students scored an average of 35% on the question.
- Further Mathematics Exam 1 included a multiple choice question with no correct answer. The Report makes no comment, simply indicating one answer (the trickiest answer to prove wrong) as correct, and that 59% of students gave the “correct” answer.
- Further Mathematics Exam 2 included an ill-posed question with erroneously transposed information. The Report makes no comment on the error. The Report does note that 72% of students received 0/1 for the question, with “many” students giving a 3 x 1 matrix rather than the correct 1 x 3, and presumably scoring 0 as a consequence. That’s pretty damn cute, given the examiners had already mixed up the rows and columns.

So, the VCAA responds to five blatant errors with five Trumpian silences. How should one describe such conduct? Unprofessional? Arrogant? Cowardly? VCAA-ish? All of the above?

Of course it is up to the individual to argue (please do!) which of these errors is the worst, but marking a multiple choice answer as “correct” when none of them are is beyond bad.

Would it really be that hard to admit the error and either give all students the mark or remove the question from calculations?

Both these options would be better than what actually happened!

Thank you so much for exposing what is happening, I find a lot of mistakes in the course books my school gave me. It is so frustrating that you answer correctly and then the response of the teacher is incorrect. No matter what you do, you are wrong, VCAA and education in Australia is a joke, the only thing they teach is anger management and left wing propaganda.

Thank you for your comment, Alex. I don’t for a minute think teachers are innocent in all this, but I would regard them more as fellow victims than villains. Teachers have close to zero power, and in general they’re not sure enough of their mathematical or professional footing to second guess the crap they get from VCAA and the textbooks and, often enough, their principals.

I’m also not sure what you mean by the teaching of “left wing propaganda” and in particular if that somehow relates to the awfulness of Australian Maths education. Whether or not schools are *teaching* propaganda, they are undoubtedly *corrupted* by pedagogical propaganda, from both the “left” and the “right” (broadly construed).

Both of these issues could be fleshed out much more, and I hope to write on them soon.