Gordon Knight

The period between the NEMP assessments of 1997 and 2001 saw significant change in mathematics education—the new curriculum was becoming more established, and a greater emphasis on numeracy skills was being introduced. This summary describes changes across this time in the mathematics achievement of Year 4 and Year 8 students.

Tasks common to the two assessments were classified according to their curriculum content using the asTTle Mathematics Content Framework. They were also classified by the generic skills required for their completion, using the TIMSS performance expectation classification. Changes across time were examined in relation to these factors.

• At Year 4, the news was all good. There were 25 task components on which the gain in achievement was at least 6%, and only five components on which there was a corresponding decrease in performance. The gains outnumbered the losses in each of the content areas, achievement objective levels, and performance expectations.

• At Year 8, the message was much more mixed. There were 10 task components on which there were gains of at least 6%, and 21 on which there was a corresponding decrease in performance. Gains easily outnumbered losses in number and in algebra and statistics, but in the combined results for measurement and geometry there were 20 losses and only one gain. Losses outnumbered gains at each of the achievement objective levels, and there were no performance expectations for which gains outnumbered the losses.

• Performance on problem-solving tasks appeared to be lower in 2001 than in 1997.

• The changes in students’ attitude towards mathematics between the two assessments were relatively small at both Year 4 and Year 8.

The study indicates areas of possible concern at Year 8. While the gains in performance in the area of number were gratifying, these may have come at the expense of achievement in measurement and geometry. Because these changes, along with the change in problem-solving performance across the two cycles, may reflect the increased emphasis on numeracy that was beginning to take effect in 2001, teachers need to be aware of the dangers of placing too much emphasis on this one aspect of the mathematics curriculum.

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The full report of this probe study can be obtained from USEE.