14 Aug 2023

Fewer Year 8 children enjoy maths than they did five years ago - study

7:56 am on 14 August 2023
Student holding pencils for math calculation, homework.

Photo: 123RF

The National Monitoring Study of Student Achievement has found fewer Year 8 children enjoy maths than five years ago.

It also shows Pacific children enjoy maths the most, but have the lowest average scores.

The study has published "contextual findings" from testing and surveys of 4000 Year 4 and Year 8 students, and 200 primary and intermediate school teachers last year.

Among children in Year 8, generally the final year before starting secondary school, 54 percent said they liked learning maths, down from 64 percent in 2018.

"At both year levels, non-New Zealand European students indicated more positive attitudes towards learning mathematics than New Zealand European students. At Year 8, Pacific students were more positive, overall, than non-Pacific students," the report said.

However, New Zealand European and Asian children were most confident about their ability in maths and confidence in the subject was associated with better scores in the subject, especially at Year 8.

"At Year 4 and Year 8, Māori and Pacific students indicated lower confidence in mathematics than non-Māori and non-Pacific students, respectively," the study said.

The report said most primary and intermediate school teachers taught maths four or five times a week.

Most teachers said they used apps or the internet to help teach or practise maths at least several times a week, but calculators were much less commonly used, with 41 percent of Year 4 teachers saying their pupils almost never used them.

About 10 percent of teachers said they did not enjoy maths and were not confident teaching it but all teachers agreed teaching maths was important.

Despite moves to stop grouping students according their ability in maths, 49 percent of Year 4 teachers and 40 percent of Year 8 teachers still do it, though the figures were lower than in 2018.

"At both year levels, the reported use of ability group-based activities was lowest among teachers at low decile schools and highest among teachers at mid-decile schools," the study said.

Though most teachers said they used apps and the internet in maths lessons, 29 percent of Year 4s and 22 percent of Year 8s said they never or almost never used them to learn or practise maths.

The context report followed the study's main findings, which were released in July and showed no change in children's average maths achievement since 2018.

The earlier report also found Pacific students had lower average scores than non-Pacific students and at Year 8 the gap in average scores was equivalent to about two years of learning.

The study was conducted by Otago University's Educational Assessment Research Unit and the New Zealand Council for Educational Research for the Education Ministry.

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