Robertson attacks 'fall' in standards

26th April 1996 at 01:00
The Government is using the latest survey of mathematics standards in primary and secondary schools to berate teachers over national testing and the 5-14 programme.

Raymond Robertson, the Education Minister, said: "I am concerned that the effects of 5-14 and the benefits of national tests are not more evident. Indeed the survey shows a fall in performance in some aspects since the previous study in 1991."

Overall, pupils did much the same in tests conducted last year for the Assessment of Achievement Programme as in the previous survey three years earlier. Pupil performance was studied at primary 4, primary 7 and secondary 2, with particular weaknesses among the oldest group where the 5-14 guidelines have yet to be fully implemented.

For the first time the AAP study, conducted in 180 primaries and 137 secondaries by Isobel Robertson and Bert Meechan of the department of mathematics, science and technological education at the Jordanhill campus of Strathclyde University, related its findings to the 5-14 programme as well as to the previous survey. There was a new emphasis on problem-solving activities.

In general, performance in relation to the guidelines was reasonable at primary 4, but less secure at primary 7 and weak in some aspects at secondary 2. Where comparisons could be made with tasks set in 1991, the results stayed the same in most areas, but in 11 of the 37 aspects of maths looked at they declined.

There was little difference between the performance of boys and girls. For both, the formal testing context for the AAP assessment is likely to produce poorer work than pupils would normally do in class.

Most of the falls in performance between 1991 and 1994 were in basic processes and their applications. For example, in addition and subtraction primary 4 pupils registered a 4.9 per cent fall over 19 tasks. For multiplication and division the decline was 6.5 per cent over 21 items.

Mr Robertson emphasised the need for a thorough understanding of basic processes. He has asked inspectors to pay particular attention to the extent and quality of maths.

He also says the findings should be used by the working party which is currently looking at whether primary and early secondary classes should include children of all abilities or whether there should be more setting.

Mr Robertson added: "I will be looking for evidence that the 5-14 programme is being fully implemented. In particular, I will be expecting national tests to be in use at all stages to monitor progress, and appropriate steps to be taken to improve performance where there is concern about standards of attainment. "

The Assessment of Achievement - Fourth Survey of Mathematics 1994 is available from the SOEID Dissemination Officer, Scottish Council for Research in Education, 15 St John Street, Edinburgh EH8 8JR.

What the AAP found

Primary 4

* Ninety per cent of pupils were able to use a calculator to carry out addition, subtraction, multiplication and division tasks correctly if answers did not require rounding. Ten per cent were able to round their calculation appropriately.

* Most were able to use a two-pan balance to put objects in order of weight but many had difficulty in calculating the actual weight of an object.

* Most were able to give change from Pounds 1 but substantially fewer could give change from Pounds 5.

* Most could record two times from a digital 12-hour clock but few could go on to calculate the time interval between them which crossed a change of hour.

Primary 7

* More than 80 per cent were successful on the money handling task.

* One third could calculate the time interval crossing a change of hour.

* More than half could convert a 24-hour clock time into ampm notation.

* Fifty per cent were able to use a calculator and round their calculation appropriately.

Secondary 2 * More than half were able to calculate the time interval crossing the change of hour and most could convert a 24-hour clock time into ampm notation.

* Sixty per cent were able to use a calculator and round their calculation appropriately.

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