Short tests 'will lower standard of maths'

SLIMMER pencil and paper tests being planned by ministers will lower standards, the author of a two-year research study funded by the Government said yesterday, writes Judith Judd.

Professor Margaret Brown, head of the school of education at King's College, London, will warn in the report published today that routine short mathematics tests such as this summer's pilot tests for 11-year-olds will make teachers 'teach to the test'.

She said the mathematics pilot tests for 11-year-olds, due to be taken last May but abandoned in most schools because of the teachers' boycott, should be improved so that there was a greater emphasis on applying mathematics. 'If the application of maths is not tested and the intention is to slim down tests, it is going to have a dreadful effect on the way teachers teach. It will push them right back to practising lots of test items. That has not done much in the past for maths attainment and it won't in the future.'

The report on the implementation of the national curriculum in mathematics, to be published by the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, finds that the present curriculum is working reasonably well and warns against changes.

The Government has appointed Sir Ron Dearing to review the curriculum and testing because of teachers' complaints that they are overworked. John Patten, the Secretary of State for Education, has told Sir Ron to slim down the tests. However, Professor Brown said most mathematics teachers in her survey did not complain that the curriculum was overloaded. 'The message of our report is that Sir Ron should leave the maths curriculum alone,' she said.

She was worried that children were not being challenged in mathematics. The research showed that some secondary schools were starting all 11-year-olds at Level 3 (the standard for the average 9-year-old) regardless of their ability.