Class 'bias' of national tests

28th January 2000 at 00:00
NATIONAL curriculum maths tests may disadvantage working-class children, new research suggests.

Middle-class children achieved higher scores in the national tests than those from working-class backgrounds who would have demonstrated the same ability in a range of other tests.

Professor Barry Cooper, director of research at the University of Durham's school of education, said the test questions for 11 and 14-year-olds are set mainly in "realistic" contexts which working-class children find particularly difficult.

They attempted to draw inappropriately from their own experiences, producing wrong answers that did not do justice to their true ability, his research concluded.

He said: "Middle-class children appear to understand the rules of the game better."

For example, if a maths questions was set in the context o traffic flows around a school, working-class children drew on knowledge of traffic around their own school, rather than using the imaginary data given in the test.

Asked how many possible pairings could be made by three girls and three boys who wanted to play a mixed-doubles tennis tournament, middle-class children were more likely to answer correctly, while working-class children were distracted by the practicalities of the tournament.

During the study, 250 11 and 14-year-olds, in three primary and three secondary schools were interviewed about the reasoning behind their answers, just after sitting the national tests.

A spokesman for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority questioned whether a bias existed but said: "The QCA is interested in any research which might help to inform the tests it develops."

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