Bring Back Column Addition to New Zealand’s Early Primary Maths Curriculum

In December 2020, RNZ reported that New Zealand’s Year 9 students recorded the worst-ever results in maths and science.  Four years earlier, they reported that the same generation of students, New Zealand’s Year 5 students, were the worst at maths in the English-speaking world.

The performance of New Zealand’s Year 5 students is still declining, with basic numeracy tasks their greatest weakness.  Looking at the TIMSS 2019 results,

NB: In 2019, TIMSS conducted their survey on paper in some countries (including New Zealand and Australia), and electronically in other countries (including England and Singapore).  Relative placings and international averages are for the paper survey only.  Combined relative placings on the questions above differ by no more than one place.  Combined international averages on the questions above differ by no more than four percentage points.

In case you hadn’t noticed, that last question was multiple choice. New Zealand’s success rate is exactly the same as in 2015, and worse than what we would expect from random guessing (25%).  An earlier cycle of TIMSS suggests a constructed response success rate would have been much lower.  

Looking at the TIMSS 2015 results for Year 5 students,

In TIMSS 2011, New Zealand’s Year 5 students finished last-equal among peers in participating developed countries:

These results are unacceptable. We have far too many children who cannot perform basic numeracy tasks, the achievement gap is widening, while other countries are stretching further ahead. C’mon Kiwis, can’t we do better than this?!  Yes we can!

Is it hard?  No it’s not.  Look at the fantastic, measurable progress achieved in a Decile 1 class of Year 7/8 students who caught up on three years of knowledge in five months.  Maths became their favourite subject, all thanks to one teacher who taught her students to line up the columns, learn their times tables and more.

Motivating article from 2013

Statements of support from New Zealand mathematicians

Useful links for teachers

Campaign material