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,
- only 30% of this group could calculate 6 × 312 (2nd last, international average 64%)
- only 26% of this group could add 385 to 5876 (last, international average 63%)
- only 25% of this group could find the number added to 73 with a sum of 1068 (3rd last, international average 49%)
- only 19% of this group could divide 927 by 3 (2nd last, international average 48%)
- only 16% of this group could choose the correct answer to 27 × 43 (last, international average 52%)
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,
- only 25% of this group could add 385 to 5876 (2nd last, international average 66%)
- only 20% of this group could divide 45 by 3 (11th last, international average 47%)
- only 17% of this group could subtract 532 from 4809 (2nd last, international average 57%)
- only 16% of this group could choose the correct answer to 27 × 43 (last, international average 51%)
In TIMSS 2011, New Zealand’s Year 5 students finished last-equal among peers in participating developed countries:
- almost half of this group could not add 218 and 191 in a basic word problem (8th last, international average 73%)
- only 32% of this group could calculate 5631 + 286 (2nd last, international average 72%)
- only 8% of this group could calculate 23 × 19 (6th last, international average 41%)
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
- Distinguished Professor Gaven Martin, chairperson of the Royal Society Te Apārangi expert mathematics panel
- the late Professor Sir Vaughan Jones, Fields Medallist
- Professor Victor Flynn, University of Oxford
Useful links for teachers
- Video for children, demonstrating Column addition – the easy way to add numbers
- Video for children, demonstrating Column subtraction – the easy way to subtract numbers
- Maths I Can Do song – karaoke video and lyrics
- Barak Rosenshine, Principles of Instruction – Research-based Strategies That All Teachers Should Know
- Kirschner, Sweller & Clark, Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching
- Clark, Kirschner & Sweller, Putting Students On The Path To Learning – The Case for Fully Guided Instruction
- Paul Kirschner & Mirjam Neelen, 3-Star Learning Experiences blog
- The Australian Society for Evidence Based Teaching
- 11 Scientific Tips That Will Help You Learn Anything Faster – And Actually Remember It
- Discovery Learning is Not Generally Effective
- John Hattie on inquiry-based learning
- Douglas Carnine, Why Education Experts Resist Effective Practices (And What It Would Take to Make Education More Like Medicine
- Daisy Christodoulou, Seven Myths About Education
- John Hattie on ability grouping
- Bill Quirk, The Bogus Research in Kamii and Dominick’s Harmful Effects of Algorithms Papers
- Menon et al, Kids’ brains reorganize when learning math skills
- Daniel Ansari et al, Fluency with single digit arithmetic predicts advanced high school math skills
- Robert Siegler et al, Knowledge of Fractions and Division Predicts Long-Term Math Success
- Daniel Ansari on the science in teaching math
- Dan Willingham, On fidget spinners & speeded math practice
- Article in The Press
- A bit of progress
- Review of March 2013
- A brighter future for mathematics education in New Zealand
- Maths tutor offers solution to Novopay’s problems
- Is professional development our only solution?
- England brings back column addition!
- A teacher making a difference
- Manitoba, Canada brings back column addition!
- Fantastic progress in a classroom
- Automaticity and why it’s important to learn your ‘times tables’
- Progress in Parts
- Alberta, Canada brings back column addition!
- Interview with TVNZ’s ONE News, January 2015
- Anna Stokke’s report “What to do about Canada’s declining math scores”
- Rose Patterson’s report “Un(ac)countable: Why millions on maths returned little”
- Live interview on TVNZ’s Breakfast, June 2015
- A little bit more progress
- Live interview on RNZ’s The Panel, February 2018
- 20 years wasted – enough is enough
- Restoring confidence in mathematics education in New Zealand
- TVNZ’s Q+A special on Maths Education, May 2021
- …and more on our blog
- …and even more on our Facebook page