THE National Grade Four Numeracy Test, which has been the source of much angst amongst parents and students alike, is to be revised.
The Ministry of Education, following the administration of the test last year, said there were improvements over the 2011 performance with a show of 54.3 per cent mastery for all students, up from 49.2 per cent in 2011. It said among public school students, 53 per cent achieved mastery in 2012, up from 46 per cent in 2011. According to the ministry, 45,654 students sat the test in 2011.
Educator Dr Tamika Benjamin, the Ministry of Education's national mathematics co-ordinator, told the Jamaica Observer that the review was underway but would not be foisted on the system until it was ready.
"The Grade Four Numeracy Test is an adoption of an assessment instrument that was used under the Expanding Horizons Project which was a USAID-sponsored project and they were using it as a means of evaluating the progress of the students in the schools that were under that project," she explained.
"When the literacy test became a national test, around the same time when the initiatives of the ministry to improve performance in numeracy were being implemented, the Grade Four test having already being developed was adopted and used as our Grade Four Numeracy Test," Dr Benjamin said.
She noted that now with the implementation of the ministry's new policy, which speaks specifically to the development of numeracy and defines numeracy, it has become necessary to look back at the blueprint for Grade Four to ensure that, based on what it says and how it was constructed, it would truly evaluate numeracy.
"...So the review of the test is really to ensure that the definition outlined in the policy for numeracy -- which is now the Ministry of Education's definition -- is reflected in the construction of the test and mainly in the construction of the items," the national mathematics co-ordinator said.
She noted, however, that the revised test will continue to evaluate the five strands of the curriculum which presently include: number representation and operation, geometry and measurement and algebra and statistics.
"...But the nature of the items are going to change to reflect a more real approach so the questions will not look more on the calculation side but will evaluate the students' ability to use the analogy in a real-life context, and this is pretty much the approach that's being taken with the review of all of the instruments," Dr Benjamin explained.
"Secondly, with the implementation of a Grade Two Test and the new Grade Six Test there is going to be a new way of measuring numeracy; right now at Grade Four we say mastery or non-mastery. We are going to create a scale and what we want to make sure is that when we evaluate at [grades] two and four and six we can reliably track a child's progress across the system," Dr Benjamin pointed out further.
"Those are the two main reasons for the review, to ensure that it fits in with the new assessment structure that will be implemented shortly, and to ensure that it is a numeracy test by nature of the questions that are posed," she noted.
"We also have developed a taxonomy of numeracy. What we are trying to do is ensure that there is alignment, so what the taxonomy says a child should be able to do at Grade One, Grade Two and Grade Four should be taken into consideration and the items constructed to reflect that real-life approach versus just asking them to do a computation," Dr Benjamin added.
"...That computation would still be there, and we would still be assessing the skill, but within a context. Numeracy is basically when a person is able to use mathematical skills in a real-life context. What's happening right now is very comprehensive," she said.
In the meantime, she was optimistic that the approach would reap rewards.
"If the teachers adopt the approach that the programme promotes, then it is not going to be difficult because that is going to be the nature of how students would have been consistently engaged in the classroom," the educator said.
The time for the change, however, was not yet clear.
"It won't happen next year; there is a process we are going to be going through so the system will have ample notice once the new format is going to be introduced; it will not be for 2014," she told the Observer.
"There is no way we could be doing this for next year; the ministry will ensure that the system receives ample notice before the new format is implemented, and if we feel having done so that additional training and support is going to be required, those arrangements will be put in place so nobody will be caught off guard or feel at the end of the day that they were not adequately prepared," she said.
The Grade Four Numeracy Test is administered in the last term of each school year to students registered in private and public primary educational institutions across the island.