In the decade since OLO posted my Wadderloader, Maths and Science in Australia (OLO 25/01/05) there has been some slight improvement in Maths and numerical Science standards generally, but there have been exceptions to that trend.
However there are now signs that matters may improve significantly. That is pleasing and gives hope; but the reactionary Education Establishment are still very strong.
In my dozen or so postings between Wadderloader and Educational sexism in Queensland (26/04/2013), and also in an e-petition to Parliament, were a number of common themes:
- Standards of maths and numerical science in Australia are low. The Trends in International Maths and Science (TIMSS) data for Queensland are very poor indeed. The performance of the upper third of any cohort is appalling, very few reaching 'Advanced' on TIMSS. The condition of Algebra 'the language of higher mathematics' is even worse than the rest, scandalously bad.
- The blame for that must lie within the education establishment which consists of (a) feeble and incompetent education faculties, (b)Trendy groups within the government Education Departments, (c) teacher unions who utterly oppose verifiable assessment of student outcomes and, biggest and worst of all (d) various Boards of Study who are responsible for all syllabi and all assessment systems.
- The education establishment is intellectually and psychologically incapable of making improvements. Only parliaments can produce the changes that are so badly needed.
- My conviction that any syllabus, and its associated assessment systems, must meet the triple criteria Defined, Reliable and Valid.
A major difficulty faced by the commonwealth parliament when dealing with education is the fact that education, in particular assessment, is a state issue. Neither the house nor the senate can influence what happens in, for example, Queensland. A senate inquiry into the education of boys concluded that:
Assessment procedures for maths and sciences must, as a first requirement, provide information about students' knowledge, skills and achievement in the subject, and not be a de facto examination of students' English comprehension.
The Queensland Studies Authority ignored that recommendation - as they legally could - and with overweening arrogance made things worse by an even further emphasis on English even in the STEM subjects. The failure to respond to the senate's remarks have meant that those students who are relatively weaker in English than Maths/Physics/Chemistry are punished in the STEM subjects for their weaker English.
The states' total control of assessments killed Howard's push for an Australian Certificate. However one thing that emanated from the commonwealth was NAPLAN. That has been a game changer because for the first time there is some data. That brought home to people, notably state parliamentarians/ministers just how bad things were in the basics - Maths and English. The results were described by then Premier Anna Bligh as 'a wakeup call'. Various suggestions (from ACER) were proposed but little progress has been made. To get anywhere what was needed was an inquiry by the Queensland parliament into education in the state. Even QSA and the education establishment generally would have to listen to the outcomes of any such inquiry.
The current Queensland government set up a parliamentary inquiry into Year 11/12 Assessment in Maths, Physics and Chemistry. As with all inquiries submissions were called. The response was excellent, there being nearly 300 submissions. They could be divided into (a) a minority who thought the existing system was satisfactory and (b) the overwhelming majority who did not. They considered the system to be unfair, unjust and that cheating was rampant. They wanted radical change.
The minority came almost entirely from education academics and their allies plus some teachers who were seemingly on the promotion trail. As they were/are the people who erected the system their behaviour is just patting themselves on the back!
The majority came from everywhere else: parents, 'coal face' teachers, Maths/Physics academics and the public generally. The backgrounds of these submitters were across the board. A most noticeable feature is that they did not/do not think that the assessment system is bad; they know it. They have endured the mess for years and seen the injustice. The submissions are heartfelt and frequently angry and are knowledgeable because they are the fruit of experience. They are desperate for change. One thing that they do not do is talk eduspeak gobbledegook. They talk normal English.
And so do parliamentarians. They clearly understood the situation and must have been surprised, shocked. The report from the inquiry contained sixteen recommendations. (The inquiry, the submissions and the recommendations are all available online). Taken together they represent a revolution; a rough summary is: there will be an external exam to count 50% of overall achievement. That will ensure that 'content and knowledge' is emphasised and provide commonality and validity. The external exam results are to be used to scale any internal assessment results. (Totally crucial). 'Basics, content and procedural knowledge' should be the primary determinant of results. In all Maths/Physics and Chemistry there is to be numerical marking. Extended experimental Investigations and other 'assignment' type activities are to be 'completed in class time under supervision.' Time to be specified. They can count between 12.5% and 25% of overall result. The Inquiry emphasised that 'clarity' is needed at all stages.
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