Careers & Education

Grade four results prompts renewed focus on math teaching, learning in Jamaica

BY LUKE DOUGLAS Career & Education senior reporter douglasl@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, March 04, 2012    

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THE poor performance of students in the Grade Four Numeracy Test (GFNT) for 2011 has again focused attention on students' performance in the need for dramatic improvement in mathematics in order for Jamaica to meet its human resource needs.

Political leaders as well as educators are again calling for a national thrust to improve scores in this core subject, following the publication of the results in which only 49 per cent of students achieved mastery in the exam.

According to the results released by the Ministry of Education (MOE) last month, of 45,769 students who sat the GFNT last year, 22,511 achieved mastery. However, this is still an improvement from the 19,296 students who achieved mastery out of 46,336 in 2010.

Among public primary-level schools alone, 46 per cent achieved mastery — an eight-percentage-point jump from the 38 per cent who achieved mastery in 2010.

Some 40,962 public school students sat the test, representing 790 out of 792 public schools in the system.

As has become the norm at all levels of the education system, females outperformed males in the GFNT. In 2011, 58 per cent of students who achieved mastery were female compared with 42 per cent male. However, the boys showed a slight improvement over 2010 when only 41 per cent of those achieving mastery were male.

Meanwhile, among the public schools, Region One, which consists of Kingston, St Andrew and Western St Thomas, had 48 per cent of students achieving mastery — the highest among the six regions of the island. Region Five, which consists of St Elizabeth and Manchester, had the lowest level of mastery with 42 per cent.

The other four regions had mastery levels of 45 to 46 per cent.

A summary of the performance of the individual schools revealed that only 33 out of 790 schools had 80 per cent or more of their students achieving mastery. But according to MOE figures, this represented 100 per cent more schools with 80 per cent mastery than in 2010.

Also, the number of schools with most of their students performing poorly is going down, that is, the percentage of schools with less than 20 per cent of students achieving mastery decreased from 15 per cent to nine per cent.

A closer look at the performance of individual schools showed a wide disparity between the top performing public schools and the lowest performing ones. There were both large and small schools that perform well, while other large schools and other small schools performed poorly.

Meanwhile, it remained difficult to assess the effect of class size from a simple analysis of the results. For example, at Smithville Primary in Clarendon, which has a student/teacher ratio of 32 to one, 76 per cent achieved mastery. Yet, at Wanstead Primary and Infant in the same parish with a student/teacher ratio of 11 to one, zero per cent (from six students who did the test) achieved mastery.

Last month, the Ministry of Education announced that a National Comprehensive Numeracy Programme is to be implemented in primary schools across the island, for the 2012/2013 academic year, in an effort to improve numeracy skills.

"The programme will focus mainly on early numeracy, which is for three to five-year-olds, lower primary — (grades) one to three and upper primary — (grades) four to six," disclosed numeracy specialist Warren Brown during a press briefing at the MOE's National Heroes' Circle offices.

At a recent Observer Monday Exchange, Dr Tamika Benjamin, director of the Centre for Excellence in Mathematics Teaching at the Mico University College called for all public schools to have at least one teacher with specialised training in mathematics if Jamaica is to reach its target of 85 per cent of students achieving mastery in the GFNT by 2015.

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