Maths tests create false expectations;Letter

2nd April 1999 at 01:00
IT COULD be considered reasonable to assume that the percentage of pupils achieving average results at key stage 1 (seven-year-olds) would be reflected in the percentages when tested at 11 at key stage 2, and again when compared with the percentages of 14-year-olds at key stage 3. However, according to the published results this is far from the truth.

From the 150 authorities, only one showed an increase at key stage 2 over the percentages achieved at key stage 1. The City of London showed 71 per cent at level 2, key stage 1 and 85 per cent at level 4, key stage 2.

The other authorities, all 149 of them, showed a dramatic decrease. In fact, taking all the LEAs the average percentage at key stage 1 for maths was 84 per cent and only 58 per cent at key stage 2. Incidentally, in the English tests there was a drop from 76 per cent to 64 per cent.

It did not seem possible that all the pupils and teachers involved in the key stage 2 tests could be at fault, so I investigated the maths results further. It appears to be the tests themselves that are to blame. The requirements for key stage 1 are not demanding enough to be compatible with the much heavier workload required at the end of key stage 2.

One of the main differences is that the tests for the older children are timed, whereas a seven-year-old has enough time to work out answers, even by counting in ones, to addition questions.

The method of marking for key stage 1 could allow a child to be assessed at level 2, even when no subtraction had been attempted. Thus the child would become a Year 3 pupil where level 3 work is expected and they are not ready, and so the downward spiral begins.

Perhaps the National Numeracy Project will begin to solve the problems, but until the tests change and false expectations are abandoned, targets and league tables can only confound the issue.

Dr Julia Matthews 50 Sydney Road, Bexleyheath, Kent

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