14 January 2013

South Africa: Positive Improvements in Language and Mathematics Results

press release

In 2009, this government made the commitment to improving the language and mathematics levels of our learners.

If we achieve this objective, we will improve the quality of the whole system, improving learner performance and retention in all grades and ultimately better outcomes in the National Senior Certificate (NSC).

Just over a week ago we released the Grade 12 results and were pleased with the steady improvement in outcomes in a number of key indicators. In years to come the improvement of these results will depend on the quality of learners coming through the system and this will ultimately rely on the comprehension and understanding of language and mathematics at the required levels.

In order to determine the levels of our learners' language and mathematics abilities so that we can target and assist schools in improving their outcomes, the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) has been conducting language and mathematics testing for learners in both Grade 3 and Grade 6 for a number of years, introducing Grade 9 testing in 2010 for the first time.

The Western Cape Government believes in the value in providing diagnostic assessment of the provincial education system so that we can improve the management of education and learner performance. In order to enhance the credibility of the tests, the systemic tests are independently administered, tested and marked by outside service providers.

In 2011, the WCED decided to improve these tests further and approached the Centre for Evaluation and Assessment (CEA), an autonomous research unit within the Faculty of Education at the University of Pretoria, to evaluate and update the existing testing instruments.

After analysing and evaluating the tests, the CEA produced an updated test that was first administered in 2011. We will present the results today of the tests administered in October 2012.

We are now in a position, when interpreting the 2012 results, to compare and contrast the 2012 results with those of the previous year. This will allow us to determine if our strategies in literacy and numeracy are yielding positive results, or if we are declining in performance in the different areas of testing.

I have pleasure in sharing with you today, the results of the 2012 testing and an analysis on whether any improvements have been made.

The 2012 tests:

In October 2012 over 250 000 Grade 3, 6 and 9 learners from 1 421 Public Ordinary and Independent schools took part in the tests.

The breakdown of learners per grade is as follows:

  • Grade 3 - 83 030
  • Grade 6 - 79 301
  • Grade 9 - 89 674

We are delighted that the 2012 language and mathematics results have produced improved outcomes in all grades and all subjects. We have seen improvements in every Grade tested for both language and mathematics. We are also pleased that each of our education districts has also achieved improvements in every subject in each Grade.

Analysing the results:

An analysis of the 2012 results indicates that the levels of literacy and numeracy are improving in the Western Cape.

For Grade 3 Numeracy, the percentage pass rate has increased over 50%. This result, together with the increases in the language result, is hopeful. This suggests that strategies in our Foundation Phase, such as the provision of additional readers and the introduction of mathematics textbooks in the Foundation Phase, have yielded positive results.

But, as stated time and time again, there is no quick fix when it comes to improving the quality of education. We were aware in 2009 that our strategy to improve literacy and numeracy would take time. We in fact stated that it would take ten years before we would be satisfied with the levels of outcomes in these areas.

The important thing is to ensure that improvements are being made. Any increase indicates progress, and for this we can be pleased. I would like to congratulate our educators, principals and district staff on the role they have played in improving these results. We can be confident that we are on the right track in improving language and mathematics outcomes!

Looking ahead:

While the 2012 tests have resulted in some pleasing improvements, we still face some tough challenges. There is still considerable work that needs to be done to ensure that these improvements continue to happen as we move towards acceptable outcomes for all our learners in these tests. We need further to strengthen our strategy and improve our support to our schools.

This morning, all schools received their 2012 results. In the coming weeks, our schools will be visited by district staff for a joint analysis of their results with the senior managers of these schools. After examining the results, each school's language and mathematics strategy will be adapted and improved taking into account where weaknesses of their learners lie.

Training programmes will be offered at the Cape Teaching and Leadership Institute that will focus on developing teachers' knowledge and skills in the areas of language and mathematics. We are also in the fourth year of an 8 year programme to train all primary school teachers teaching language and mathematics. This year we will be focusing on content and teaching strategies.

With the introduction of CAPS in 2011, educators are now teaching a first additional language from Grade 1. We will also be increasing our supportive monitoring this year. The 'Academic Performance Improvement' function on our School Improvement Plan (SIPS) programme is extremely important in monitoring the performance and improvement levels of each school.

Each school will be submitting improvement targets determined by principals in consultation with the relevant district office after careful analysis of the Grades 3, 6 and 9 language and mathematics test results. Once determined, the targets are captured into the SIPS database and monitored to ensure that each of our schools is progressing.

This function also enhances accountability across the system and allows us to identify schools that are at risk in meeting targets so that we can provide the necessary support and assistance. We will continue to encourage the use of textbooks and workbooks in the classroom to improve classroom practice.

The WCED has over the last two years provided millions of textbooks and classroom readers to schools. We will be monitoring the use of textbooks and workbooks through our SIPS and our curriculum advisors will be on call to support schools and monitor their effective use.

Together with the strategies I have described above, as well as the continued support of parents, educators, schools and the WCED, I am confident that we will ensure over time that all the learners of this province will be numerate and literate at the appropriate level for their grade.

We must see the 2012 improvements as a step ahead in the right direction. In 2013, let us all pick up the pace.

Read the original story, with tables and illustrations where appropriate.

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