[Maths-Education] The resource for the course

Tony Ralston ar9@doc.ic.ac.uk
Thu, 20 Sep 2001 16:28:04 +0100

> Romulo Lins asks:
> "Why didn't British educationalists (teachers and
> researchers and developers) resist the National Curriculum, with its
> associated testing system, and remained with the previous, locally
> based, assessment system?"

I have followed the recent discussion on testing with much interest.

I am willing to accept that it is the case that it is possible to make
students mathematical thinkers and still prepare them for standardized
national tests.

But will those of you who so argue agree that, while possible, it just will
not happen in the vast majority of mathematics classrooms where even good
teachers under pressure will inevitably "teach to the test"?

Romulo Lins' question, at least insofar as it addresses testing, seems to me
a good one.  I reason as follows:

1.  In the U.S., where I am fairly heavily involved in the "mathed" list,
the so-called "math wars" make the fight against standardised testing almost
impossible to win since it pits (mainly) math educators against (mainly)
research mathematicians with the latter being very influential due to their
generally high stature.

2.  But as I perceive the situation in Britain (perhaps still murkily
although I have now lived here for 6 1/2 years), the outlook is not so
bleak.  I would think - no doubt I'll be speedily corrected if I'm wrong -
that the university math education establishment, as well as most teachers,
generally thinks, as I do, that standardised tests short of GCSEs and
A-levels have no (anyhow: few) redeeming features.  In addition to not being
effective in raising standards (probably they lower them), they
deprofessionalise teachers by telling them they are not capable of assessing
their students themselves.

3.  If the above is not too far off the mark, then better than trying to
ameliorate the bad effects of testing (in which, sadly, you will probably
fail), you would be better advised to present a united front (of course, I
don't mean 100%) to the government requesting the cessation of these exams.
 I am not so naive as to think that this would or could be successful any
time soon but, in the long run, it is the only way forward.  I appears to me
to be the case that the research mathematics community in Britain is neither
so well-organised nor so antediluvian on the subject of math education as in
the U.S. and so you would not have the same level of opposition as in the

Tony Ralston


Anthony Ralston
Professor Emeritus of Computer Science and Mathematics
SUNY at Buffalo

Academic Visitor
Department of Computing
Imperial College, London

email: ar9@doc.ic.ac.uk
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