Fall from 13th to 22nd blamed on teacher training and disruptions

Class disruptions and a lack of exposure to algebra and geometry are just some of the issues being linked to New Zealand slipping from 13th to 22nd in OECD maths ratings.

A three-part Ministry of Education report on maths class learning environments was released last week. It is based on the findings in the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment 2012 (PISA). The programme happens every three years and evaluates 15-year-old students' skills and knowledge in maths, reading and science.

This latest report identifies that the drop in maths ranking is due to an accumulation of factors in regards to student opportunities to learn, teaching strategy and student behaviour.

Key findings include:

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• 59 per cent of students indicated they had never heard of congruent figures, and but 37 per cent had never heard of radicals and divisors.

• Kiwi students were less exposed to formal maths - such as algebra and geometry - than students in the comparable nations of Australia, Canada, Britain and Singapore.

• 40 per cent of students reported that noise and disorder and students not listening to the teacher occurred in most maths classes.

Maths teachers with degree-level qualifications are more likely to be teaching in urban, high socio-economic schools, and students at these schools have higher exposure to complex concepts and formal maths.

Secondary Principals Association president Tom Parsons said the results stemmed from a national shortage of teachers with adequate mathematics training.

"There is such a demand for teachers who come out of university with maths qualifications that they can go wherever they like," he said. "Usually this is high socio-economic urban areas."

New Zealand Association of Mathematics Teachers president Gillian Frankcom said the reason for the decline was not clear cut. She said that since 2009, all secondary school teacher graduates had completed a comprehensive maths component and teacher incompetence could not be singled out for student failure.


Quiz: Three math questions (answers below)
1. Solve: 5(t - 4) = 15
2. Simplify: 6(x - 5) - 2(x+1)
3. Solve: 3x(x+4) = 0

Teacher, tutor and hard work all add up

Maths ace Angela Lei of Mount Albert Gramar School. 12 Novemeber 2014 HZH photo by Chris Loufte
Maths ace Angela Lei of Mount Albert Gramar School. 12 Novemeber 2014 HZH photo by Chris Loufte

Angela Lei says the the extra work of the accelerated maths programme she is in has been worth the effort. Photo / Chris Loufte

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Maths whiz Angela Lei said while natural ability had got her to a certain point, a combination of hard work, a tutor and good teaching had been the key ingredients to her success.

The 16-year-old, who is this year studying on a calculus scholarship at Mt Albert Grammar, has been in the school's accelerated maths programme since Year 9. She said a great teacher and a quiet work environment had contributed to her success.

Angela completed NCEA maths courses two years ahead of her age level, doing NCEA level 3 when she was in Year 11.

The workload had been hard but was worth the effort.

"What the workload really did was make the class realise how hard we can work and we can achieve scholarship level."

Angela still has one more year of school but she already has her mind set on studying accounting and food and nutrition at university.


Quiz answers
1. t = 7
2. 4x - 32
3. x = 0, -4

- Taken from NCEA level 1 sample tests