20 Sep 2016

Blaming maths teachers for students' struggles 'insulting'

7:21 pm on 20 September 2016

It is insulting that teachers are being blamed for students finding a Year 11 maths exam too hard, a senior maths teacher says.

There have been complaints that the test, which was the first of a series of maths exams for NCEA Level 1, was far too hard, with students and teachers saying it dented their confidence.

However, two academics at Auckland University of Technology have hit back.

Associate Professor of Education Andy Begg said the exam questions were similar to those that had been in exams for many years.

If students had been well taught then they would have no problems, Professor Begg said.

He suggested teachers themselves, and not the people who set the exam, might have been mostly to blame.

"Perhaps some teachers have not been covering basic algebra," Professor Begg said.

However, the head of mathematics at Wellington Girls College, Margaret Priest, said Professor Begg's remarks were unreasonable.

"I actually find that insulting for all New Zealand teachers," she said.

"Teachers throughout New Zealand have a high standard for teaching maths.

"It really is not very helpful for someone to say that. They would really need to be better informed about what the prescription [for teaching maths] was before they made that statement."

Ms Priest said teachers taught what was in the curriculum, but the contents of the exam came as a surprise to both students and teachers.

Professor Begg's colleague, Associate Professor of Mathematics Sergiy Klymchuk, meanwhile, said it was good that the exam pushed conceptual thinking.

"The questions were good because they emphasised thinking rather than memorisation or repetition," he said.

Professor Klymchuk said this style of questioning was good preparation for tertiary study and should always be an integral part of the maths curriculum.

Professor Begg said one explanation for the problem might be that the government had been pressing numeracy skills so hard that disciplines like algebra might have been neglected.

Benchmarking begins - NZQA

Meanwhile, the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) said it was responding to feedback from teachers on the exam and was more than more than happy to meet maths teachers to talk about their concerns.

But it had not formally had any talks with them at this stage.

The authority has begun its benchmarking process to determine if the exam was much harder than last year.

If that proved to be the case, it would adjust the marking schedule so that all student work was marked fairly and in line with previous years, and no student would be unfairly advantaged or disadvantaged.

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