Grade 1 diagnostic maths test can help identify lagging pupils - research

Children in class.

University of Johannesburg research has found that a diagnostic maths test can help Grade 1 teachers find out who is on track with maths and who is lagging. Picture: Ian Landsberg/African News Agency (ANA).

Published Mar 25, 2021


University of Johannesburg (UJ) research has found that a diagnostic test in the classroom can help Grade 1 teachers find out who is on track with maths and who is lagging.

According to UJ professor Elizabeth Henning, who is also chair of the National Research Foundation: “When children come to school, even for Grade 1, it’s difficult to know what they already know. At home they see their family members bake and cook and learn early numeracy informally with lots of ‘number talk’. They learn some maths at home – but every home is different.”

The UJ research recommends that a 15-week “maths boost” intervention programme linked to the test would provide teachers with material to support the children in an efficient way. The 15-week programme’s materials are cheap and easy to use.

According to the research, children who had extra practice in early numeracy skills with the programme had a bigger and sustained increase in their numerical relational skills

At home many children learn basic maths in their home languages while a few learn it in English.

“Then the children come to primary school and ‘parallel track’ if their school teaches through the medium of English. They start learning the same concepts in a new language. They get to know maths terms in English. When Grade 1 teachers don’t speak the home languages of the young children, it’s not possible for them to translate or code-switch when they see the kids struggling,” said Henning.

Henning is one of the researchers who enrolled 207 Grade 1 children at four public schools and another 60 children at three middle-income private schools.

Of the 267 children, 79 mentioned that they speak English at home, while the others spoke Setswana, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sesotho, Afrikaans and other languages. Some of the children were from immigrant families.

Researcher Professor Pirjo Aunio said the test itself is not unique, but measuring numeracy along with other relevant control measures in a school-based intervention is. Aunio is from the Department of Education at the University of Helsinki.

“If we test a Grade 1 child, we may not get a reliable outcome if we only test their numeracy without any other measure at the same time. We also need to assess their listening comprehension (to see if they understand the language in its spoken form) and their executive function skills, and record whether they had been to school in Grade R. Testing children for different competencies helps researchers to get an idea of what learning support they may have already had, and what they may need,” said Aunio.

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