Doesn't add up to better teachers

23rd June 2000 at 01:00
I SPOKE to many students following the numeracy test and can confirm that most did use their calculator to "check" their answers to the so called "mental questions".

That this was a possibility was brought to the attention of the Teacher Training Agency in November at a meeting of initial teacher-training providers. It was evident that the testing procedures had not been thought through, but I was assured that the pilot tests would monitor such problems.

However, it is the TTA's concept of what constitutes "mental arithmetic" that worries me. All candidates were supplied with two pieces of paper for their working out. Surely mental arithmetic is the process of undertaking calculations in one's head.

The TTA seem to believe that mental arithmetic is the ability to undertake a written algorithm provided that the question is spoken rather tan written. Perhaps the TTA should take a closer look at the National Numeracy Strategy to clarify their misconceptions.

Aside from that, at John Moores University, there was no evidence that any students were "confused by the wording" of the test. In fact all students who attended our tutorials in preparation, found the test fair. The sample questions were a very useful indicator of the types of questions set.

The very idea of a numeracy test raises many questions, but perhaps one above all. At the end of the test, the final act in a three or four-year degree, a student asked me one question: "How does passing that test make us better teachers?" If anyone can answer that question I will gladly forward the response.

Paul Killen

Lecturer in maths education

Liverpool John Moores University

Barkhill Road, Liverpool

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