Standards in reading and maths surge

Subjects see significant improvements for first time in 30 years, though concerns remain for DEIS schools

The overall standard of reading and maths in second and sixth classes has significantly improved for the first time in 30 years according to new national assessments, although there are still concerns over standards achieved in DEIS schools.

The National Assessments of English Reading and Maths — the first such assessment in five years — was published yesterday, and found that standards had improved compared with those recorded in 2009 and marked the “first significant improvements in standards in reading and maths in over 30 years”.

It prompted Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan to hail the “wonderful achievement”, which she said was “a positive change”.

But the assessments also showed that DEIS schools (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) with children from disadvantaged communities still lag behind — particularly those in DEIS urban schools.

The report states: “While there have been improvements in reading in DEIS schools since 2009, there has been no real reduction in the gap between pupils in DEIS urban schools and pupils in other school types. The large proportion of very low achievers in reading in DEIS urban Band 1 schools is a particular concern. With some exceptions, performance in mathematics in DEIS schools is still well below national standard.”

The 2014 National Assessments involved 8,000 students across 150 schools and found that in reading, the overall performance in both classes was significantly higher in 2014 compared with 2009. There were also fewer lower-achieving pupils in the system, more higher achievers in both classes, as well as significant increases for the reading vocabulary and reading comprehension subscales in both classes.

As for maths, the scores for the second-class group increased by 14 points compared to the figure for 2009, while the sixth classes scored higher by 12 points. There were also significant increases in performance on three of four content areas assessed, including ‘shape and space’ and ‘number and algebra’. However, ‘data content’ increased by just four points. There were also significant increases on all five mathematics processes, including ‘reason’ and ‘problem solving’ .

The gender gap narrowed in some areas, although girls in second class significantly outperformed boys on the overall English reading test while the reverse was true in some of the maths subscales, such as problem solving. In DEIS schools, there were significant improvements across many categories, although DEIS Band 1 schools — often those dealing with the most disadvantaged children — fared less well.

In its recommendations, the Educational Research Centre, which conducted the tests, said there was now scope to consider setting new national targets, specifically within DEIS schools and in some specific areas such as problem solving in maths.

Gerry Shiel of the centre said: “It is important to maintain the gains we have seen today.”

He added that the improvements recorded in the latest assessments should have a positive impact on Ireland’s international ranking, starting with the latest round of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, which is due this spring.

Ms O’Sullivan said literacy and numeracy standards had improved across the system and that overall targets set in 2011 had already been reached. However, she warned that the gap between the performance of pupils in DEIS Band 1 schools when compared to other schools had not reduced.

The general secretary of the Irish National Teachers Organisation , Sheila Nunan, welcomed the results.


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