versión impresa ISSN 0325-8203
There are three different stages that generally take place while learning mathematics: the first concrete stage is when children learn to add, usually incorporating fingers as the most common object of support; a second pictorial stage or of icons, in which children assimilate a pictorial representation of the concrete object and, finally, an abstract or symbolic stage, in which children handle symbols that represent mathematical quantities. The main goal of this paper is to discuss the construction of a mathematics test for university students administered to a sample of 564 participants. The aim of this study is to evaluate achievements in mathematic abilities of young people that have finished high school and are ready to start university studies. The sample’s mean age was 24 years old with a standard deviation of 8.7 years and was 40% male and 60% female. The test has 50 items that measure simple algorithms for arithmetic problems: some items require the use of decimal numbers, some stress the use of proportions or percentages, and a few others are algebraic and geometric questions. All of the items are multiple choice tasks with four options and only one correct answer. There is no time limit to take the test, but its duration is usually not longer than one hour. The mean of the total scores is 25.36 with a standard deviation of 8.06. The exploratory item analysis shows the percentages of correct answers for each item, as well as the values of item-total correlations. Cronbach’s alpha reliability index is .936. To study the construct validity we factor analyzed the results and came up with one factor that saturates many items of arithmetic calculation type and three other factors which are not very significant. The test measures, fundamentally, arithmetic calculation, but a lengthy analysis indicates that the items imply other inferential processes. The application of this test indicates that it is very difficult to differentiate mathematical abilities from the aptitude to solve new problems, and that, we are actually evaluating an individual’s problem-solving abilities. Such an aptitude improves only with a mathematical instruction centered on the understanding processes, so that if the students are taught to understand the structure and the logic of mathematics, they will have more flexibility and will be more capable of remembering, adapting and organizing data. One of the difficulties observed in the test was that some participants thought that, when multiplying, the values always increase and, when dividing, they always diminish. That is the reason why they struggled so much with decimal exercises. The 50% of the examined participants had difficulties in solving problems with decimals, many had difficulties in finding percentage or interpreting a simple graph of columns. Currently, manual computers are used, but students have difficulties in the interpretation of its results, e.g. when it is presented in mathematical notation. It is very difficult, in this type of test, to differentiate mathematical abilities from mathematical knowledge because it is also important to consider a very strong inferential cognitive aspect.
Palabras llave : Mathematics; Inferential reasoning; Item analysis; Reliability.