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

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today