Last week the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority outlined how pupils fared in last summer's national tests
* boys' performance is lower than girls'. Boys should be given clear expectations and structured work; * at all key stages more children choose to write narrative rather than non-narrative - generally the standard of writing is higher in narrative; * when writing about books, children find it difficult to comment on how literary effects are achieved. They need to move beyond literal meanings; * children in key stages 1 and 2 often use dialogue in their stories, but it rarely advances the plot or develops the characters. At key stage 3 it rarely appears. The effective use of dialogue should be taught; * sentences at key stages 1 and 2 are dominated by "and", "then" and "so". More able children in year 6 use a wide range of constructions. This should be a focus for progress; * in spelling, children at all key stages show poor understanding of patterns of consonant doubling within words, and when adding endings. Children need to be taught the rules of spelling and given knowledge of "word families" to help with unusual words; * at all key stages children who are uncertain about spelling rely too heavily on simple sound-symbol correspondence. They need to develop a stronger visual memory and learn new strategies.
Key stage 1
* children had success counting small numbers; * counting with larger two digit numbers (especially more than 50) was generally less reliable; * only children achieving level 3 appeared to understand the = sign properly; * some children at level 2 could add-with-carry; * few children below level 3 could subtract; * few could solve two-step addition or subtraction; * some more able children at level 2 could do simple multiplication and sharing problems; * children at level 3 could recognise and use the divide sign; * children at level 2 could interpret information in a table but found it difficult to make comparisons; * questions involving more than one step were found difficult.
Key stage 2
* children were generally confident in answering questions concerned with number; * some level 3 pupils had trouble applying two criteria at once (eg an odd number greater than 15); * there was a secure understanding of addition and subtraction, although many children use informal methods rather than standard approaches; * children at lower levels were not strong at written multiplication, but were more successful with calculators; * a question using negative numbers was only answered well by advanced pupils; * there was poor understanding of decimal places; Children had problems with generalised elements expressed in the form of "n"; * few shape and space questions were answered well; * mathematical constructions were drawn inaccurately; * children understood reflection but struggled with rotation; * there were problems comparing different sorts of scale; * questions using statistical diagrams were answered well but pupils need more experience of different sorts of chart; * probability was handled well; * children misunderstood "mean", "mode" and the phrase "to one decimal place".
Key stage 3
* children up to level 5 found number questions difficult; * the weakest pupils failed to grasp decimals, percentages, fractions and negative numbers; * adding and subtracting were done well; * pupils were successful at dividing by 10 and finding factors. Higher level pupils could calculate a percentage; * most pupils achieving level 3 ignored minus signs and included them later; * some pupils achieving level 5 or 6 still thought that adding positive to negative numbers makes them smaller; * level 3 pupils misunderstood decimal number ordering; * they avoided fractions, for instance by assigning a whole number value to a probability; * pupils at level 3 and 4 avoided algebraic expressions; * pupils at level 4 and 5 commonly ignored brackets, confused symbols and left expressions unsimplified; * at level 3 and 4, children mistranslated shapes when reflecting and, even at level 5, produced inaccurate geometrical drawings; * pupils at 3 and 4 typically misread simple tables and scales and failed to carry out instructions such as "draw a table"; * those at level 5 and 6 had difficulties holding two parts of a problem in mind, so giving an answer satisfying only one of the two.
Key stage 3
* there has been an improvement in pupils' ability to apply scientific knowledge to new contexts and some improvement in their ability to give extended responses. But pupils gave incomplete or imprecise explanations even where their knowledge was sound; * life processes and living things: questions on cell structure, plant structure and the human reproductive system were answered more successfully than in 1996; * materials and their properties: pupils showed good knowledge of states of matter, acids and alkalis. Questions on chemical reactions were not well answered, nor were questions on geological changes; * physical processes: knowledge of electrical circuits, magnetism and how sound travels continues to be good; * many pupils do not know where the sun appears in the sky or why it seems to move; * straightforward qualitative questions on forces were generally answered correctly.
Here is a selection of the main findings.
Standards at key stage 1, Year 4, key stage 2 and key stage 3 are all available from QCA publications, PO Box 235, Hayes, Middlesex, UB3 1HF, telephone 0181 867 3233.