Maths skills are ‘dropping alarm­ingly’


Schools that abol­ish classes specif­i­cally for tal­ented pupils have a bet­ter chance of ad­dress­ing de­clin­ing achieve­ment in maths, a new re­port has found.

The Ed­u­ca­tion Re­view Of­fice (ERO) re­port found chil­dren’s con­fi­dence and abil­ity to do maths fell be­tween years 4 and 8, a pe­riod in which achieve­ment has been ‘‘dropping alarm­ingly for some time’’.

Chief re­view of­fi­cer Ni­cholas Pole said schools that bucked this ‘‘wor­ry­ing trend’’ – ap­par­ent in other year lev­els and in­ter­na­tional stud­ies – made a con­scious ef­fort to raise teach­ers’ ca­pa­bil­i­ties and avoid stream­ing.

Stream­ing is the process of sep­a­rat­ing out stu­dents into classes based on their achieve­ment po­ten­tial. Pole said suc­cess­ful schools ‘‘re­fused to ac­cept that so many chil­dren were sim­ply not good at math­e­mat­ics’’.

New Zealand As­so­ci­a­tion of Maths Teach­ers pres­i­dent Dr Gil­lian Frankcom said many teach­ers’ maths skills needed im­prove­ment but dis­agreed stream­ing was nec­es­sar­ily a prob­lem.

‘‘They [streams] are flex­i­ble and they’re open to change – if they’re not, then teach­ers are not do­ing what they should be do­ing.’’

ERO vis­ited 40 schools where stu­dents’ maths skills had been im­proved. What made the dif­fer­ence was a dual fo­cus on short­term in­ter­ven­tions for strug­gling stu­dents and long-term pro­fes­sional sup­port in maths teach­ing for staff, the re­port said.

‘‘Only half [of chil­dren] know a half and a half is a whole in year 8.’’

It said stream­ing chil­dren into dif­fer­ent classes for maths sep­a­rated the sub­ject from other ar­eas of cur­ricu­lum. ‘‘By aban­don­ing this prac­tice, teach­ers found they were able to more ef­fec­tively in­te­grate math­e­mat­ics into au­then­tic con­texts.’’

The suc­cess of stream­ing de­pended on whether it was ‘‘on the chil­dren’s plus side or a teacher’s,’’ Frankcom said.

‘‘Teach­ers have prob­lems with cer­tain as­pects of maths teach­ing be­cause of the way they were taught through their own school­ing. It kind of comes back to bite them.’’

She said teach­ers’ lack of maths con­fi­dence had con­cern­ing im­pacts on stu­dents head­ing into sec­ondary school.

‘‘Only half [of chil­dren] know a half and a half is a whole in year 8.’’

Re­cent re­search showed New Zealand is one of few coun­tries where 15-year-olds’ maths abil­i­ties are in ‘‘ac­cel­er­ated de­cline’’.


A new re­port has ques­tioned stream­ing classes in schools.

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