PISA tests are occasionally in the news and well known amongst teachers. They rank the 65 OECD countries according to results in standardised maths, science and reading tests. Here in the UK, we ranked significantly higher in reading than in maths (23rd in reading, 26th in maths). Incidentally, our ranking in both is dropping*, described even by government as “at best, stagnating, at worst, declining.”
Why do we consistently perform better in reading than in maths? I think the answer lies in emphasis we put on reading (as opposed to maths) from a very early age.
We read to our children at night from a very early age. Throughout primary school, children work through personalised reading schemes and bring a book home every night. And in adulthood, it is much easier to be bad at maths than bad at reading (in fact, we even have a national standard excuse for it – “I was always rubbish at maths” is almost a catchphrase, but something one would never say about reading).
The National Literacy Trust states that if a child does their 10 minutes of reading daily, they are 13x more likely to reach their expected reading age by the time they leave primary school. Schools invest in personalised, carefully-graded reading schemes like The Oxford Reading Tree (aka Biff, Chip and Kipper) and work hard to make sure children read them regularly.
But if reading is resourced and encouraged so strongly, how does maths fair in comparison? In fact, no such ’13x’ stat exists for numeracy. Very rare is the school that sends home 10 minutes of maths daily. In fact, maths homework generally consists of a weekly one-size-fits-all worksheet or on-line game which, to be frank, does little if anything to raise standards.
Of course for a teacher to produce personalised homework for each individual would be almost impossible, which is where adaptive learning in the form of DoodleMaths comes in. If 10 minutes a day can make such a significant difference in reading, just think what a difference it could make in maths!
*There is a perception that it is the Far East that dominate the top of PISA rankings – or that it is language differences that cause these changes. But English-speaking economically equivalent countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada all perform significantly higher than the UK.
There is also little to support the myth that educational systems take generations to change: Ireland ranked 32nd and 21st in maths and reading respectively in 2008, but had improved these to 20th and 6th by 2012. Why do we exchange maths teachers with Shanghai (where cultural differences such as the one-child policy do skew results) when perhaps the answers are closer to home? For more on our PISA ranking, click here .