The Learning Plateau

What We Learnt From A Learning Gaps Perspective
  • Learning gaps widen over time, from a fouryear gap in Grade 9 to a sixyear gap 
  • Without intervention, learning plateaus at Grade 6 level, creating a ceiling beyond 
  • Students even in Grade 12 are missing even the most foundational understandings 
The Background

Syafunda is an organisation that supports schools within the Kwa-Zulu Natal province 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 grade in each school across Grade 8 to 12. These 2522 students were assessed using Reflective Learning’s High School diagnostic assessment, translating results in an estimated gradelevel of learner competency. The Grade 10 to 12 cohorts consisted solely of students who chose core Mathematics

Grade-Level Competency

It was not surprising that there were no Grade 8 and Grade 9 students at Grade 9 level yet as the assessments occurred at the start of the year. However, the bulk of students were functioning at the Grade 35 level (82% and 69% respectively) showing that the majority of students had significant learning gaps. Grade 10 students were split in half, with 51% at Grade 3-5 level with 48% at Grade 6-8 level. Only 2 of the 505 students were at the required level. Grade 11 and 12 students fared slightly better, but at most only 2% of students were ready for FET phase Maths.

Thread Comparisons

The assessments showed each grade achieved best on the Numbers thread (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 grades across most threads, but this effect would be emphasised by stronger students choosing core Maths. Interestingly, there is little difference across grades in the ProblemSolving 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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