More math tests could be good for elementary school kids if done the right way

UK government plans proposed that by 2030, 90% of children leaving primary school in England will achieve expected levels in reading, writing and maths.

According to UK Government plans, by 2030, 90% of primary school leavers should achieve expected levels in reading, writing and maths.

NEW DELHI: Plans recently released by the UK government propose that by 2030, 90% of children leaving primary school in England will reach expected levels in reading, writing and maths, up from 65% in 2019. As part of efforts to To achieve this, the government is introducing more tests.

In June 2022, fourth-grade students (aged eight to nine) must take a multiplication table test. This means that, for mathematics, children will be tested four times during primary school. The multiplication table check joins a basic assessment in numeracy as well as literacy, communication and language, introduced in 2021 for four-year-olds entering reception classes. Children also take standardized Sats tests in grade two (ages six to seven) and grade six (ages 10 to 11). While test results can be informative, more testing won’t necessarily help struggling children. In fact, testing situations induce anxiety, and preparing for high-stakes tests can turn classrooms into test prep factories. By the end of primary school, many children have attended countless math classes anxious and having no idea what is going on. This is the problem that really needs to be addressed.

Difficulties with mathematical research suggest that in general there are two main culprits when it comes to failure in mathematics. One is developmental dyscalculia – a specific learning disability, which affects around one in 20 children. The other is math-related anxiety, which is an even more common problem. According to a large-scale international study, about one in three teenagers get very nervous when they have to do math. Dyscalculia is a developmental disorder that involves severe and persistent difficulty in learning and doing math, which is present from an early age. These difficulties significantly interfere with school or work performance, or even with daily activities. For example, a person with dyscalculia may have trouble reading a clock, have difficulty estimating the time needed for different activities, or find it difficult to measure ingredients for cooking. On the other hand, math anxiety is a feeling of tension and fear that many people experience when faced with math problems or when dealing with numbers in their daily lives. . It can lead to classroom behavior problems for students, as well as a variety of unpleasant physiological symptoms, such as a racing heart or butterflies in the stomach.

One study even found that doing arithmetic while being assessed by an observer led to changes in people’s posture. They adopted postures that resembled reactions to fear of falling while standing on an elevated surface. Although the same person can be affected by both math anxiety and dyscalculia, this is not necessarily the case. Research suggests that about 80% of children with high math anxiety show average or above-average math performance. The effects of dyscalculia and math-related anxiety are present from the early years of school, meaning they could be identified and helped early on. However, while the foster year baseline check provides an early measurement point where exceptional children could be identified, this is not how the results of this test are used.

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First, these results are not shared with schools. Instead, they are recorded in the national student database and used to create a cohort-level progress measure for schools at the end of the second key stage. There are also no standards against which children’s scores are compared. In fact, individual children are not faced with the same questions, so their scores are not directly comparable. Early intervention or any effective educational policy aimed at improving mathematics achievement must address both dyscalculia and math-related anxiety, and these interventions must begin very early. Early detection, if used to identify children who need help, could be very beneficial. Early identification of math-related anxiety could be easily achieved through self-report questionnaires, which ask children how they feel in different situations related to learning math. These questionnaires can detect math-related anxiety in children as young as six years old. The research group is also currently developing a screening tool for dyscalculia for primary school-aged children. If students with these issues are identified early, there is a much greater chance of positive outcomes.

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MP Matt Hancock recently proposed the introduction of universal dyslexia screening for primary school pupils. If the government’s goal is to improve both literacy and numeracy standards, a similar approach should also be taken with respect to dyscalculia. At the moment, a child with dyslexia is about a hundred times more likely to be diagnosed and to receive educational support than a child with dyscalculia. Currently, support for students with dyscalculia comes primarily from charities and organizations without significant government funding, such as the Dyscalculia Network. While dyscalculia can lead to permanently very poor performance in affected students, math anxiety can be more debilitating for students with average or high math potential. These students underperform in important test situations and lack the confidence to make the most of their skills. Of course, math anxiety can affect children of all abilities. Although the tools to tackle the sources of math failure exist, there is still a long way to go before they are available to every child in every classroom. Well-done tests could be a first step in preventing the development of math difficulties, without increasing stress levels in young children. Over time, it could also raise national maths standards to near the government’s new target.

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