Some issues surrounding learner performance in the grade 9 ANA for Mathematics in South Africa: Is there a case for introducing a National Examination for Grade 9 Mathematics?
Dr VG Govender (ACM: Advisory Committee for Mathematics)
Introduction and background
The South African school curriculum comprises two distinct components, the General Education and Training (GET) part (grades R – 9) and a Further Education and Training (FET) part (grades 10 - 12 ). This structure assumes that the GET serves as preparation for the FET. However, this has not always been the case.
The introduction of outcomes-based education in South Africa in 1997 heralded a new era in education in South Africa. This was implemented by the new democratic government in South Africa to overcome the curricular divisions of the past (DBE, 2011). The outcomes- based approach ushered in a new way of teaching and learning. It also impacted on the assessment of learners, especially at the junior grades at school. When outcomes-based education was introduced to high school learners in 2001 (grade 8) and 2002 (grade 9), the assessment of learners also changed with the introduction of the Common Task for Assessment (CTA) for grade 9 learners. The CTA was regarded as an “external examination” and comprised 25% of the promotion mark (DoE, 2002). There were serious challenges in the implementation of the CTA. The CTA for Mathematics did not effectively assess what learners needed to know for the FET. After much deliberation, the CTA was discontinued in 2010.
In 2011, the Department of Basic Education introduced annual assessments (ANA) in Language and Mathematics for grades 1 – 6. In 2012 the annual assessments were extended to grade 9. When the results of the 2012 ANA for grade 9 Mathematics were released, there was a national outcry about the poor performance of learners. The national average of 13% indicated that there were serious issues with regard to the teaching and learning of Mathematics in grade 9 and earlier grades.
Some of the findings in a report by Govender (2013) pointed to possible reasons for the poor performance of learners in the Grade 9 ANA for Mathematics in 2012. These included the poor Mathematics qualifications of teachers, poor utilisation of existing resources by teachers, gaps in learner knowledge, and the scheduling of the ANA to be written in September when only about 75% of the work had been covered.
In response to the poor performance in 2012, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) put a number of measures in place to ensure that the 2013 proceeded as planned with a view to improving learner performance. These measures were also reported in the AMESA review of the 2013 ANA paper for Mathematics (AMESA, 2013).
However, the release of the 2013 ANA results showed that there was still a lot to be done. Although there was an increase in the National average, from 13% to 14 % in the 2013 grade 9 ANA for Mathematics, this very miniscule increase showed that more is needed to be done if this average mark is to be increased more significantly.
In the light of the issues regarding the implementation of ANA and the performance of learners (in both 2012 and 2013), the following research question was formulated for this report:
What are the issues surrounding learner performance in grade 9 Mathematics?
To answer this research question the following sub-questions were posed:
The sample for this report consisted of subject advisors and teachers from five South African provinces. They participated voluntarily in this report and, although the sample was small, provided some rich data in which the writer could work with.
Research methodology and design
Both quantitative and qualitative data was collected. The quantitative data included the percentage pass rate for ANA grade 9 and the final examination pass rate while the quantitative data involved responding to various questions on the survey.
Data for this report was collected from a survey using questionnaires. In the survey, the following issues were discussed:
The data collected were analysed in the context of the research questions.
The National Average of 13% in the 2012 grade 9 Mathematics for ANA
There was a mixed and varied response to the national average of 13% in the 2012 ANA for Mathematics. Only three participants responded with a “yes” or “no” as to whether this national average was a true reflection. The combined responses, with an emphasis on key trends and features, of all participants are included here:
2012 Mathematics ANA Results of some schools
Participants were required to provide the ANA results for selected schools in their regions
|Province||Percentage of learners|
|Location of school|
|Table 1: Mathematics ANA results of some schools|
These results appeared to be in line with those provided in the report by Govender (2013), with only three schools getting a pass percentage of more than 40%. Although, the questionnaire did not request specific details about the school background, the writer of this report did check with the participants about these particular schools. It would appear that these three schools were located in “affluent” areas.
The schools in province A had similar performances in the ANA. Learners at these schools were not used to writing formal long papers. They got tired while writing and also asked for assistance. Some indicated they did not know what to write. Learners were not used to balanced- test papers, covering levels 1 – 4. At school, they were given tests which are not balanced and only cover level 1 type questions. The SMT members at these schools were not able to provide proper guidance to their Mathematics teachers as they were usually “History” or “Language” specialists. Furthermore, moderation of SBA was non-existent.
Teachers who teach across the grades in high schools tend to focus or concentrate only on the senior FET grades while grade 8 and 9 learners are not given the necessary support. Schools do not have the necessary teaching resources to make a positive contribution to Mathematics teaching. Learners tended to have problems with the language of learning and teaching (LOLT), English, which differed from their own language.
The two schools from province B were also very similar in performance. In both schools the work was not completed in time for the ANA. One of the schools did not do the Statistics section of the work and their learners performed poorly in this section. The other school did not cover triangles. However, both schools tried their best to motivate their learners and have extra classes.
Both schools from province C have approximately 300 learners from very poor income households. Despite the schools being well-managed and being serious about improving learner performance in grade 9, it would appear that measures by the schools to improve performance were not successful and that more needed to be done at these schools.
Due to incomplete coverage of the curriculum, the learners at the two schools from province D were not ready for the ANA. It would appear that both teachers and learners did not take the ANA exam seriously as it was not a measuring tool for the learners‟ progression to the next grade.
In province E there were clear differences in the ANA performance of both schools. In the first school, where learner performance was quite impressive, the teachers were described as hardworking and truly concerned about making a difference in their learners‟ ANA results, while also seeing the bigger picture. They realised that if learners do not perform well at grade 9 level, then they will lack certain fundamental basics which are needed for the FET. For them it was crucial to lay a solid foundation.
Curriculum coverage is effectively monitored by school management and enough time is allocated for revision. Furthermore, there are ample opportunities for learners to demonstrate an understanding or lack thereof in tests, examinations, projects etc. These teachers do not only fulfil the minimum requirements for the curriculum but far surpasses them. Learner performance is tracked using a question- by- question analysis and parents are invited to teacher-parent consultations to discuss the progress of their children. Teaching takes place as planned, and sufficient time is spent on individual topics. Problematic areas are given special attention and extra time, if needed. Grade 8 learners are taught all the topics and are thus better prepared for grade 9. Learners are given regular homework which are checked and discussed the next day. All of this happens in the framework of good leadership and good discipline which is vital to the ethos of any school.
In the second school there are a myriad of factors that lead to low learner attainment. In this school there are poor teaching methods and irregular teaching sessions. There is a high rate of learner absenteeism. In this regard, there is a lack of discipline from both teachers and learners. Important topics from the curriculum are not covered in both grade 8 and grade 9. This tends to lead to a skewed learner performance. Teachers are demotivated by lack of interest from learners and learners reciprocate by having a lack of interest due to poor teaching
Final Mathematics exam and ANA results of some schools
The next table shows the final Mathematics results of the schools mentioned in table 1. The ANA results are also shown for comparison purposes.
|Province||Percentage of learners|
|Percentage pass in final|
|Location of school|
|Table 2: Final Mathematics exam and ANA results of some schools|
Although there appeared to be an increase in the pass rate for Mathematics in the final examinations (with the exception of province B) when compared to the ANA, there was still a concern that not enough learners left the GET with good Mathematics passes.
Some of the reasons for these poor final results were:
The person who provided the data for province E reported that the final results for the two schools in province E were very similar to the ANA results. He attributed this to learners in this province writing a common provincial grade 9 final exam Mathematics paper, which is very closely aligned to the ANA paper. The ANA provides the learners with much needed practice before they write the final exam paper.
Should there be a National grade 9 Mathematics examination?
The table below shows whether the provinces in the sample write a common provincial grade 9 Mathematics examination.
|Province||Common grade 9 exam|
|Table 3: Provinces and common grade 9 exam for Mathematics|
Of the 5 provinces in this report, only learners in province E write a common paper. As indicated earlier, the common provincial paper is closely aligned with the ANA. However, the majority of participants expressed support for a National Grade 9 examination for Mathematics. Some of the views expressed by the participants are outlined below:
There was only one dissenting view on this issue. He stated that a National Exam for Mathematics would be very costly and the money could be well spent by providing support for the professional development of teachers.
Measures by provinces and districts to prioritise grade 9 Mathematics
As stated earlier, the DBE started its ANA support to provinces much earlier in 2013 when compared to 2012. In this regard, districts received ANA exemplar papers which were then given to schools. A number of teachers conducted revision sessions with their learners, using these papers. It was also an opportunity for teachers to consolidate the learning of key grade 9 Mathematics content areas. This would also ensure that learners move to the FET with the requisite mathematical knowledge and skills.
There were other measures which participants suggested which could help prioritise grade 9 Mathematics.
These include the following:
Support for grade 9 Mathematics teachers
Participants were asked to state the kinds of support that should be given to teachers should a National examination for grade 9 Mathematics be introduced. In this regard some of the suggestions given were in line with the measures needed to prioritise grade 9 Mathematics as stated in the previous section. In addition to these measures, the following were suggested:
This report is based on the input of a small sample of mathematics teachers and subject advisors. Even though this sample was small, the participants provided some very rich data which the writer could work with. Clearly, initiatives to improve teaching and learning of Grade 9 Mathematics have not had a positive influence on learner performance. Although the writer believes that more research needs to be done on this matter, some key findings of this report are now highlighted. These are:
The participants in this report were very much in support for a National Examination for Grade 9 Mathematics as a way of improving teaching and learning not only in grade 9 but across the Senior Phase. Teachers in the Senior Phase would know that the work covered in this phase is very important and would culminate in an examination at the end of the phase.
In this regard, the grade 9 school-year is an important year in a learner‟s schooling career. It marks the end of the General Education and Training (GET) Band, the end of the Senior Phase and the end of compulsory education.
Conclusion and recommendations
Despite attempts to improve the teaching and learning of Mathematics at grade 9 level, the performance of learners in the Annual National Assessment (ANA) has not been promising.
A comparison of the final grade 9 Mathematics marks to the ANA marks shows very marked differences in learner achievement. It is possible that the final marks are inflated with high school-based assessment (SBA) marks. This may give learners a false sense of achievement in Grade 9 Mathematics. The impact of poor ANA performance and inflated grade 9 final marks (as a result of school-based assessment) has serious implications for Mathematics in the FET.
Over the past few years, there has been a steady stream of learners moving from Mathematics to Mathematical Literacy, in the FET. This means that the pool of learners leaving grade 12 with Mathematics is diminishing and this impacts on the number of learners available to study important fields such as Science and Engineering at South African universities.
The problems associated with Mathematics in the FET can be traced to earlier grades. One way in which this this issue could be addressed, as this report suggests, is the writing of a common National Mathematics Examination for grade 9.
On this matter, the Advisory Committee for Mathematics (ACM) recommends that the Department of Basic Education introduce a National Examination for Grade 9 Mathematics as a means of addressing the poor quality of mathematics teaching and learning. This should be done in a consultative and planned manner with a key focus on teacher development and learner improvement.
AMESA (2013). AMESA submission to DBE: standard of ANA grade 9 paper. Available from www.amesa.org.za
Cohen, L., Manion, L. and Morrison, K. (2000).Research methods in education. 5th ed. London: RoutledgeFalmer
Department of Basic Education (DBE) (2011). National curriculum statement (NCS): Curriculum and assessment policy statement. Senior Phase (grades – 9). Pretoria. Government printing works.
Department of Education (DoE) (2002). A draft framework for the development of common tasks for assessment (CTA). Pretoria: National Department of Education.
Govender, VG (2013). A survey of selected schools on the 2012 grade 9 Mathematics ANA results: Implications for teaching and learning: available from www.samf.ac.za