Monday, 7 Jul 2003

MEDIA RELEASE Monday 7 July 2003 Year 8 maths students are not sufficiently challenged An analysis of the Australian findings of the recent TIMSS 1999 Video Study has indicated that Australian mathematics teachers may be underestimating the ability of Year 8 students and not challenging them enough in class. This finding is among those contained in a new report, Teaching Mathematics in Australia, released today by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER). The report provides an Australian-focused analysis and discussion of the results from the international study, Teaching Mathematics in Seven Countries: Results from the TIMSS 1999 Video Study, which was released in Washington in March. Australian students perform well in international mathematics studies. The report’s findings suggest that with more exposure to more challenging material, at all levels but particularly in classes of more able students, it seems likely that Australia would perform even better. The report examined videotapes of 87 randomly selected Year 8 mathematics classes from around Australia. Among the key findings are that Australia had a significantly higher percentage of problems that students worked on for a very short time (less than 45 seconds) than was the case in higher-performing countries. As well, in Australia, more than three-quarters of problems set for students to do per lesson were repetitions of one or more problems they had done earlier in the lesson, and a similar proportion could be solved in four or fewer small steps. The report also notes that Australian teachers very rarely (two per cent of problems per lesson) made explicit the mathematical relationships and connections involved in problems when they discussed them with their classes. Instead, they were generally satisfied with students giving answers only, or simply stating the procedures used to solve the problems. There were indications also that the curricular level of the Australian Year 8 mathematics lessons, particularly the algebra content, was lower than in most of the other six countries that took part in the study. Nevertheless, one of the report’s authors, Dr Hilary Hollingsworth, says there is no reason for Australian Year 8 mathematics teaching practices to be abandoned in favour of adopting methods used somewhere else. However, there are some strong threads running through the study’s findings that indicate that some overhaul of Year 8 mathematics teaching in Australia is warranted. “Australian students would benefit from more exposure to less repetitive, higher-level problems, more discussion of alternative solutions and the mathematical reasoning involved in the solutions, and more opportunity to explain their thinking,” she said. ACER conducted the Australian component of the study with funding from the Commonwealth, State and Territory governments, and the U.S. National Centre for Education Statistics. Teaching Mathematics in Australia by Dr Hilary Hollingsworth, Dr Jan Lokan and Associate Professor Barry McCrae can be downloaded from the ACER web site at from Monday 7 July. Print copies of the report, which include a CD-ROM containing eight of the lesson videos (four from Australia, and one each from the Czech Republic, Hong Kong SAR, Japan and the Netherlands), can be purchased from ACER Press. Contact or phone (03) 9835 7447. ***********ENDS**************