On 10-13 September 2013 over 7 million learners in Grades 1-6 and Grade 9 in South Africa will be assessed to determine their levels of competency in Literacy and Numeracy. This will be the third time since 2011 that an assessment of this magnitude is conducted under the umbrella of the Annual National Assessments (ANA), an initiative of the Department of Education (DBE) to improve the quality of performance in the system. I therefore urge all parents to take an active interest in these tests. Our website has exemplars you can use to assist your children.
ANA was put in place by the DBE as a strategy to annually measure progress in learner achievement towards the 2014 target of ensuring that at least 60% of learners achieve acceptable levels in Literacy and Numeracy. ANA is one of the initiatives that forms the backbone of the DBE’s Action Plan to 2014: Towards the Realisation of Schooling 2025. ANA targets Literacy and Numeracy because these have been found universally to be the key foundational skills for successful learning in school and beyond. The tests are administered in all the eleven official languages in the foundation phase and in the two languages of teaching and learning in the Intermediate and Senior Phase. Necessary adaptations are effected for learners who experience various kinds of learning disabilities to ensure that every learner has the opportunity to demonstrate what they can in the assessment.
The first large-scale ANA was conducted in February 2011 and involved around 6 million learners in Grades 1-6 . The second was in September 2012 and saw the participation increasing to over 7 million learners, who included Grade 9 learners, from more than 20 000 mainstream and special schools. The shift of the ANA administration from the beginning of the year (February in 2011) to the end of the academic year (September in 2012) was informed by challenges that were experienced in 2011. These included a possible compromise of the effective start of the school year due to the additional demands placed on Departmental officials emanating from the large-scale testing logistical processes. For the second time in 2013, ANA will be conducted in the same month as in 2012 – an important element of stabilising the assessment.
Not only have numbers of participating learners increased since 2011, but learner scores in the tests have also shown a significant improvement in Literacy and Numeracy achievement. At the Foundation and Intermediate Phases learner achievement saw improvements in excess of 5 percent average scores in both Literacy and Numeracy. The baseline performance at the Grade 9 level, assessed for the first time in 2012, was well above 50% in Literacy but very low in Mathematics.
Improvement in learner performance can be ascribed to the teaching and learning standards that ANA exemplifies among teachers and learners. In addition, the DBE engaged in focused feedback and support following the two assessments in 2011 and 2012. With the evidence coming out of the assessment, schools and teachers were able to focus on areas of Literacy and Numeracy where learners experienced particular challenges.
Immediately after marking tests schools send reports to parents of individual learners. Feedback to parents is important so that parents can play their part in motivating, supporting and encouraging learners to exert themselves in learning so that they do not only do well in their school work but are also are better prepared to participate in subsequent ANA cycles.
ANA tests are set by panels of selected competent teachers and curriculum specialists under the direction of appointed Chief Examiners and Moderators. The set tests are subjected to stringent pilot study processes to ensure their suitability for target learners and the quality of information that they elicit from learners. In addition, the DBE has appointed an Advisory Committee that comprises local and international experts in assessment to exercise oversight over the assessment process and make objective judgments on the quality of the tests that are administered. The following persons, from the indicated institutions, serve on the Advisory Committee:- Professor A Kanjee (Chairperson) from Tshwane University of Technology, Professor. S Howie from the University of Pretoria, Mr. G Khosa: from JET Education Services, Dr. E Sikali from NAEP, USA, Dr. E Greer also from NAEP, USA as well as Dr. A Govender from the University of Fort Hare.
Since 2011 the DBE has also engaged experts from subject associations such as the Association of Mathematics Educators of South Africa (AMESA) to critique and recommend improvements on the quality of the tests and this feedback is continually being built into enhancing the quality of the assessment.
Learner performance in Grade 9 Mathematics was particularly low in 2012 and this raised questions on the suitability of the test for the targeted learners. The results of the pilot study conducted on Grade 10 learners at the beginning of 2013, before they had been taught meaningfully on the Grade 10 work, showed an average percentage score of 27,7% and 31,4%, respectively, on two forms of the mathematics test that were administered. Performance in the 2012 Grade 9 test was 13% on average. On the basis of the pilot study, it would be predicted that performance in the Grade 9 mathematics test in 2013 could be expected to be an average percentage score of around 30%, an increase of around 17% from 2012. However, the Advisory Committee commented that piloting tests at the beginning of the year while the actual test will be written at the end of the year meant that the samples of learners were not ideally comparable. They recommended that in future all tests be developed and piloted at the writing time a year before the actual writing of the test. The Department will develop tests for 2014 in 2013.
The process of developing and refining the Grade 9 Mathematics test for 2013 has been particularly stringent and thorough. After normal internal quality assurance processes by the panels of examiners, moderators and editors, the Grade 9 mathematics test was given to Dr V. Naidoo who is a retired mathematics educator who used to be president of the Association of Mathematics Educators of South Africa (AMESA) for comments. Dr Naidoo’s comments were subsequently submitted to the panel of editors and examiners appointed for the test as well as to Dr A. Govender who is a mathematics specialist on the Advisory Committee. Both the panel and Dr Govender independently studied the comments and agreed that some of them be implemented immediately but others could be considered in the long term without affecting the quality of the 2013 test. The member of the Advisory Committee, Dr Govender, had a final say on the final paper that will be written in September 2013.
Besides strengthening the quality of the assessment instruments, the DBE has stringent measures in place to enhance the objectivity, credibility and reliability of the assessment processes. The teachers that will administer the test undergo an intensive training session to ensure that the tests are administered under standardised conditions across all schools in the country. The tests are marked by teachers at the school level and they are moderated by senior teachers and the head of department, at the school level and the district office. To further enhance the credibility of the marking, a sample of scripts from each school are centrally moderated at the provincial level, where experienced educators are brought to a central venue, to re-mark the sample scripts under the supervision and oversight of Senior Moderators and a Chief Moderator. It is encouraging to note that in both 2011 and 2012, the centralised moderation process has confirmed that the marking at the school level complies with the required national standard.
In addition to the above, the DBE has engaged the services of an independent agency to independently run a parallel process of testing, analysis and reporting on a scientifically selected sample of schools and learners across all nine provinces, to verify and validate the processes that the DBE follows in conducting ANA. This is in compliance with the Presidential injunction that the ANA results must be validated by an independent agency.
Trends in ANA since 2011 have shown a steady increase in learner performance in basic education. The impact of ANA on the quality of learning and teaching has been attested to by teachers and district officials. The DBE expects that performance in 2013 will keep the trend and that the benefits of ANA will be entrenched to ensure that the system delivers basic education of a high quality.
Parents are advised to support their learners in the preparation for ANA 2013 and to ensure that the results are made available to them, so that this information could serve as an important diagnostic source of the areas of strength and weakness, of the learner based on a standardised national test.