A math intervention pilot program helped mid-range performing Year 3 students in government schools improve their performance by 38 percent over a three-month period.
Officials are hoping to implement a broader program next year based on the promising results.
While the screening of the students revealed marked improvement, it also revealed potentially troubling weaknesses in the skills of the average Year 3 student. Even students who scored in the mid-range in a follow-up screening struggled to answer the question of “How far is 78 from 100?” Less than 20 percent were able to provide the correct answer. A significant number of students had trouble counting numbers higher than 100. And a majority missed simple addition and subtraction problems, such as 23 minus 6.
Frank Eade is the numeracy specialist for the Ministry of Education. He said the new intervention program was taught by someone with experience in the way it is handled in the United Kingdom. Early intervention, he said, has been shown to boost students’ success in math.
“The evidence is, this is by far the most effective method,” Mr. Eade said.
Students were initially screened at the beginning of the school year. They were asked by evaluators to perform such tasks as starting at a given number and counting forwards or backward, and then doing addition and subtraction problems. The problems were presented in a way that required some interpretation on the part of the student. Evaluators assessed whether students used sequential counting to solve the problems or whether they structured them as formal math problems.
The lowest score possible was 8. The highest was 24. Most of those scoring between 15 and 19 were provided with twice-weekly sessions to help improve their math skills. The sessions involved one instructor and three students.
“We don’t take the very worst,” Mr. Eade said. “If you do, you’ve got to do one-on-one and that gets expensive.”
Many of these low-performing students, he said, are already getting additional assistance in school.
A second screening was done in December, using the same questions. In addition, a third screening, dubbed the winter screen, was done at the same time, with questions that were a little harder. This third screening was designed to take into account material the students had been learning in the classroom during the fall.
Students who received intervention showed significant improvement. Those with the lower scores in the mid-range benefited the most when it came to taking the second screen. Students who scored 15 on the original screen, scored an average of 21.4 on the second one, a 43 percent increase.
The same group scored an average of 17.8 on the winter screen. That 18.7 percent rise, however, was less than the increase on the winter screen by those with higher initial scores. Students who scored 18 on the original screen, and who received intervention, had an average score of 23.5 on the winter screen, an increase of 31 percent.
In contrast, those who scored 20 points or higher received no intervention and saw their scores decline. The group only took the winter screen as a follow-up. The average score dropped from 22 to 21 for the group, a 5 percent decrease.
Mr. Eade said he and other officials have decided that even earlier intervention will be better. They plan to shift their focus to Year 2 students during the next school year. The screenings and interventions will be done at all government primary schools, he said.