Mathematics assessment at elementary level as informed by theoretical and teachers’ perspective

Author: Luneta Kakoma

Legislators, economist and other stake holders have great interest in assessment because they see it as a means of ensuring accountability. Assessment also serves as indicator of the quality and quantity of school programs and teaching personnel. Assessment is not only relevant to policy makers, it is also a diagnostic tool for teachers to determine the form and the amount of assistance to be given to the learner as the need may arise. Further, assessment can help teachers and parents to rate learner’s progress.

However, certain conditions need to be satisfied in order to ensure the effectiveness of any assessment. Assessment developed must be guided by a clear purpose and it must accurately reflect the learning expectations. Methods of assessments must reflect the intended target, and also act as a tool for teaching proficiency. Above all it must be timely, understandable and helpful.

Studies suggest that teaching and learning is less effective if the teachers’ knowledge of good assessment is lacking. A number of teachers fail to differentiate between the purposes of some assessments from the other. When teachers ignore appropriate assessment practice, assessment becomes a meaningless activity unrelated to learning.

Due to the importance of assessment and the drop in mathematics standards, the Annual National Assessment (ANA) was introduced as part of the Foundation for Learning Campaign in the foundation and intermediate phase (DBE, 2012).  ANA 2011 (2010) outlines the following four key effects it should have on schools:

  • To expose teachers to better assessment practices,
  • To make it easier for districts to identify schools in most need of assistance,
  • To encourage schools to celebrate outstanding performance,
  • To empower parents with important information about their children’s

The research involved 58 foundation phase mathematics teachers who were asked to respond to a questionnaire regarding assessment, and their impression of the ANA. The teachers were asked to explain what they understood by the term assessment. The aim of this research was twofold: firstly to provide a theoretical framework for assessment in mathematics; and secondly to probe foundation phase teachers, views of assessment, how they used it and their perception of the ANA.

The results implied that teachers did not see the link between ANA and learning in schools, nor how it is used by the DBE to support low performance and achievements in schools. The teachers lack of grounded knowledge of the essence of assessment and how assessment tasks can be used for effective instruction is concerning. This paper recommends research-informed professional development programmes that address assessment for learning and the effective use of assessment such as the ANA.

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