Times tables tests - as easy as 1, 2, 3?

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04 January 2016 by Anne Heavey
Yesterday Nicky Morgan announced that in 2017 every 11 year old child will take an online test to check that they know their times tables up to 12 x 12. This test will be piloted this summer with 3,000 children.

The new check will serve two purposes:

  • ‘Help’ teachers to spot children at risk of being left behind.
  • Hold teachers to account for how the children perform.

Ok, so here are some problems with this idea:

  1. This test has been designed to improve our children’s numeracy, but it focuses on a very narrow part of the maths curriculum and is essentially a memory test – times table knowledge alone does not make a mathematician and it’s entirely feasible that maths teaching will be distorted to focus on preparation for this test at the expense of other areas.
  2. The test is taken against the clock – by upping the pressure on the children taking part, their performance could be impacted by the design of the test, knocking the confidence of these children and perhaps putting them off maths for life. Furthermore, this test will be taken toward the end of primary school. If the purpose is about supporting children in securing their times table knowledge, isn’t the timing a bit off?
  3. This is yet another formal assessment in primary school – we already have the baseline assessment, phonics check, phonics re-sit, KS1 SATs, KS2 SATs, and the new SATs re-sit – do our children really need this many formal “checks” at primary school? No other country in the world has this many tests – including those rated highest by PISA.
  4. An online test… how on earth will this be administered? Will all children have to take the test at once? What will happen to their data? How much information will the teacher get back (to help them identify children who require support)? Moving from a pilot of 3,000 to a full year cohort is a massive challenge – how will the DfE ensure that the system can take the numbers? (Because big ICT projects have gone so well for Governments in recent years…!)
  5. What if parents don’t want their child to take the test? Will they be able to withdraw their child? Will schools be penalised for the results of children with SEN who are not able to pass the test at age 11?
  6. Who is paying for this test? Creating these big assessments costs money – someone will have to design the test, someone else will build the program that administers it, then we’ll have people handling the data, others training teachers how to run the test, then we have the cost of supervising the test through cover or invigilators… this is expensive. Our school budgets are under huge strain at the moment – wouldn’t this money be better spent elsewhere? (The reception baseline assessment is expected to cost at least £4.5 million this year…)

This test has been sold to the public with a misleading claim – that this check will help teachers support children that don’t know their times tables yet. Teachers already do this, and it demonstrates a complete lack of trust in their professionalism to suggest that without a government administered test children won’t get the teacher support they need.

The true aim appears to be much darker – this government is determined to convert all schools to academies by 2020. Many secondary schools are already academies, but the majority of primary schools remain local authority schools. The results of this test will be used to force primary schools to convert to academies and create an environment of joyless learning.

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In order, the most commonly used techniques to get children to be fluent in knowing their 'times tables'.

1. Learn this at home ready for the test on Friday.
2. Let's chant the table we are learning today.
3. Let's learn this song which will help us learn this table.
4. Play this game on the internet where you have to 'shoot' the correct answer before it disappears.
5. Play this game on the internet where you have to type the correct answer before the next question appears.

I guess it's a recipe for more of the above.

Sorry to be so late but only just got round to searching for protests about the ridiculous new tables test. My 7 year old grandson is already stressed about tables - not surprising as on Fridays he is faced with 30 multiplication questions and 30 divisions (silver level) with 6 MINUTES to complete the test. It is a (very) long time since I did my Dip. Ed. but I am sure stress was not considered an appropriate learning aid for 7 year olds. Who on earth devised the test, and how can they defend them?

Here's a radical idea. :-)

Why don’t we change our global numbering system to base-two instead of base-ten? If civilization switched to binary, then math learning would have no more +/x tables to memorize at all! Would more love math?

This could potentially increase (significantly) the number of mathematically-sophisticated people worldwide, by cutting years off of early math education, which are typically spent memorizing addition and multiplication tables.

Full analysis is blogged @ http://11111100000.com - the current year written in binary ;-)