AUSTRALIA. The Australian government plans to introduce national tests in mathematics following concerns that young Australians are lagging behind their Asian counterparts in their numeracy skills.
Senator Chris Ellison, the federal schools minister, has set up a taskforce to advise on minimum skill levels in elementary arithmetic and has proposed nationwide mathematics tests for nine and 11-year olds within two years.
He said that numeracy had become the "poor relation" to literacy. He wanted to see numeracy benchmarks introduced along the lines of literacy tests that nine and 11-year-olds will have to sit this year.
State and federal education ministers agreed late in 1997 to adopt the tests as a means of raising standards of reading and writing.
The Third International Mathematics and Science Study revealed that Australian students aged nine were well behind pupils in Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong and Korea in their arithmetical abilities.
Mr Ellison's proposal will be discussed at a meeting of education ministers in April. He said that students who failed to develop basic numeracy skills struggled in later life.
Experts disagree, however, on the usefulness of nationwide standard testing. Many argue that unless the federal government is prepared to allocate more funds to schools, thereby helping reduce class sizes, merely testing children will do little to raise skill levels.
The Australian Education Union is strongly opposed to national tests, claiming that teachers tend to teach to the tests and give less emphasis to other important aspects of the curriculum.