AAMT Submission re Closing Achievement Gaps

AAMT believes that the achievement gaps evident in Australian school mathematics requires effort and major reform in two areas. These are the Quality of teaching and Parental engagement. Fundamental to these initiatives and reforms is that the orientation that all young people can learn mathematics is held and reinforced by parents, teachers and other educators, and, most  importantly, the young people themselves.

1.   Quality of teaching
Many teachers of mathematics in primary and secondary schools are currently doing outstanding work. An emphasis on improving the quality of teaching needs to acknowledge and respect this, and build on the store of capacity these teachers bring to their work.

  • The bulk of students in schools in 10 years time will have been taught by teachers already in schools or in the current ‘system’ of teacher preparation.
  • Hence closing the gaps will be dependent on improving the quality of the teaching of people who are past their initial pre-service teacher education.
  • Current in-service teachers need to build their professional capacities to close achievement gaps, including both for those students currently achieving poorly in mathematics as well as for those students who perform adequately, but who could do much better.
  • The factors that influence the quality of teaching mathematics include:
  • an orientation towards clear focus on the proficiencies and higher order thinking skills
  • mathematics content and pedagogical content knowledge of teachers in relation to the students and the curriculum they are teaching
  • teachers’ access to and use of professional support including teaching and human resources
  • the educational leadership of teachers’ ‘work units’ (typically department or faculty in secondary school; school or year group etc. in primary)
  • the system of professional standards and credentialling

Each of these require significant and sustained effort.

Over the next 10 years, Australia needs to expand the funding and effort applied to mathematics teaching through national programs that are targetted to improving the quality of the teaching of mathematics. :

  • A national program of in-service professional development that helps teachers develop their knowledge of mathematics and their pedagogical content knowledge in mathematics that supports enhancement of their teaching practices. This program needs to be innovative, cost effective, targetted in building teacher capacity. It should build on partnerships between the professions, universities and others.
  • Build on the current Supporting the Australian Curriculum Online (SACOL) project and extend this approach with targetted projects to enhance the quality of resources available to and used by teachers.
  • Either as part of the two previous initiatives or separately, to design and provide resources and systems for teachers of mathematics to learn the mathematics content they need to know for their teaching as they need it (‘just in time’).
  • A national program carefully constructed sample studies that interrogate issues in students’ learning of mathematics than is possible with current instruments (NAPLAN, TIMSS and PISA). Students’ ‘multiplicative thinking’ and notions of ‘variable’ are two examples of important mathematical areas that would benefit from these kinds of sample studies. Such studies will inform teachers, schools and education authorities with an evidence base of the detail about student achievement and where and how they can take targetted action.
  • A national program to develop instruments and means for teachers to make informed, professional decisions about important aspects of students’ learning that are not able to be assessed using the sorts of tools that are currently in place for the large scale, high status assessments. Until and unless teachers’ professional judgements are supported by good quality materials, and processes that generate confidence in them, the importance and value of teachers‘ professional judgement will be discounted in considering students’ ‘achievement’ in mathematics.
  • A national program for in-school curriculum leaders in mathematics that equips them to succeed in their role (may be a part of the overall in-service program above, but its purpose will be to provide the knowledge and skills to enable these people to be effective leaders in mathematics).
  • A national program that provides principals with the knowledge and skills to lead their school’s work and development in mathematics, and the expectation that they will play a strong and sustained leadership role in mathematics.
  • Build on AAMT’s established work on professional standards for teaching mathematics to create a full system of standards and credentialling that are directly related to the work of teaching mathematics. The standards need to talk to the teaching of mathematics through specifics. (Note that the AITSL Standards and associated processes are not considered ‘fit for purpose’)

The current levels of localisation of curriculum, resources, teacher support and assessment processes by the state and territory jurisdictions militates against maximising the advantages of having a common national curriculum and should be dismantled.

2.   Parental engagement
The value of direct engagement of parents in their children’s schooling is well established as a general principle. For mathematics, significant gains could be made in addressing achievement gaps through enlisting parents as partners in their child’s learning of mathematics.
In the area of reading, parents are encouraged to regularly read to and with young children. There have been some positive initiatives in the area of parental engagement with their children’s learning of mathematics over recent decades, but these have been quite school dependent and there is no evidence of widespread uptake of parents doing and talking mathematics with their children as part of the ‘culture’ as has been the case for reading.
A number of factors would need to be addressed in any attempt to have parents focussing on mathematics with their children. Important among these are:

  • parents’ fear of mathematics – many adults have poor self-perceptions of themselves in mathematics from their own school experiences, and can tend to avoid mathematics with their children
  • parents’ views of what is important in mathematics – parents can feel at odds with contemporary approaches to learning mathematics being used in schools, given that these are not what they experienced
  • providing stimulus ideas and starting points for activities and conversations for parents – until parents have some experience, they will need this sort of support.

Over the next 10 years, Australia needs to establish a systematic and supported program that enables and encourages parents to have daily mathematical engagement with their children. Whilst this should be delivered through individual schools, the materials and processes should be of high quality and be based on best available research in the area. Particular attention will need to be provided to the needs of parents in low SES settings as they may need additional information and support to be able to play a positive role in their child’s mathematical development.

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