Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education (ACME)

Retention of Mathematics Key Stage 2 Tests "damaging to the education of young people"

07 May 2009

The Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education (ACME) is disappointed at today's decision to retain external assessment in mathematics at Key Stage 2.

Commenting on the decision, Chair of ACME Professor Dame Julia Higgins FRS said:

"ACME recognises that assessment is important in monitoring pupil progress, but is disappointed that the Expert Group has failed to move away from the targets and league table culture in mathematics education, which we believe is damaging the education of young people."

In its submission to the Expert Group on Assessment in January 2009, ACME pressed for a reinvigorated teacher-led assessment of pupil progress. In this, written tests would be employed judiciously as part of a range of assessment tools and techniques for monitoring progress and where testing is used formatively with the involvement of the pupils.

Ofsted's recent report1 pushed for greater emphasis on Using and Applying Mathematics (UAM) which has been an inadequate element of daily primary mathematics lessons for many years. UAM is more easily assessed through observations of how pupils engage in mathematical problem solving on a day to day basis and, as a result, a continued emphasis on testing will not help teachers or pupils to develop mathematical application skills.

ACME's alternative to the current system would require a dedicated programme of continuing professional development (CPD) in order to equip teachers with the skills needed in order to assess student progress, a set of skills which have been underused during the years of focus on external testing.

In addition, ACME has highlighted the risk that the new primary curriculum could lead to uninspiring learning experiences for pupils if schools simply concentrate on teaching 'numeracy', so there is a real danger that the wrong type of assessment will only serve to exacerbate this problem.

Dame Julia added:

"The goals of Sir Jim Rose's recent primary curriculum review should have underpinned the recommendations of the Expert Group. Instead, the Expert Group has operated in isolation and the effectiveness of the new primary curriculum will suffer as a result".

Ends

Notes

1. The Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education (ACME) is an independent committee, based at the Royal Society and operating under its auspices, which acts as a single voice for the mathematical community on mathematics education issues, seeking to improve the quality of such education in schools and colleges. It advises Government on issues such as the curriculum, assessment and the supply and training of mathematics teachers. ACME was established by the Joint Mathematical Council of the UK and the Royal Society, with the explicit support of all major mathematics organisations, and is funded by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation. The current chair is Professor Dame Julia Higgins FRS FREng.

2. In October 2008, ACME welcomed the decision by the Rt. Hon Ed Balls MP to remove external assessment at Key Stage 3

3. ACME's submission in January 2009 to the Expert Group on Assessment can be found here.

1Understanding the Score, (Ofsted, 2008) http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/Ofsted-home/Publications-and-research/Browse-all-by/Documents-by-type/Thematic-reports/Mathematics-understanding-the-score

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