The Learning Plateau

What we learnt:

Learning gaps widen over time, from a four-year gap in Grade 9 to a six-year gap in Grade 12. Without intervention, learning plateaus at Grade 6 level, creating a ceiling beyond which students cannot advance. Students even in Grade 12 are missing even the most foundational understandings within Numbers and Fractions.

The background

Syafunda is an organisation that supports schools in South Africa by providing educational hardware and software in support of teachers. As part of their project they wanted baseline assessments to measure their progress on an annual basis. Working with 23 schools in three different educational districts.

The assessments

Syafunda conducted assessments with a randomised sample choosing 25 students from each Year in each school across Years 8 to 12. These 2522 students were assessed using Reflective Learning’s High School diagnostic assessment, translating results in an estimated Year-level of student competency. The Year 10 to 12 cohorts consisted solely of students who chose core Mathematics.

Year-level competency

It was not surprising that there were no Year 8 and Year 9 students at Year 9 level yet as the assessments occurred at the start of the year. However, the bulk of students were functioning at the Year 3 – 5 level (82% and 69% respectively) showing that the majority of students had significant learning gaps. Year 10 students were split in half, with 51% at Year 3-5 level with 48% at Year 6-8 level. Only 2 of the 505 students were at the required level. Year 11 and 12 students fared slightly better, but at most only 2% of students were ready for the last three years of Maths

Thread comparisons

The assessments showed each Year achieved best on the Numbers journey (46% to 60%) with Patterns and Algebra (14% to 31%) having the lowest achievement. Students struggled with Fractions (17% to 34%) across the board also. There is an upwards trend in later Years across most threads, but this effect would be emphasised by stronger students choosing core Maths. Interestingly, there is little difference across Years in the Problem-Solving thread. It is evident that the most foundational concepts are sorely lacking. Given the structure of Maths, gaps in these concepts are likely to have had an effect on the student’s ability to learn later, more advanced topics.

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