Summary of the National Systemic Evaluation Report
Duration of Project: 2006 to 2008
Geographical base for project: National
Project conducted by: JET Education Services
The main purpose of National Systemic Evaluation (NSE), from a Government perspective, was to benchmark performance and track the progress made towards the achievement of the transformational goals of the education system in respect to access, redress, equity and quality.
To this end, the erstwhile National Department of Education (NDoE) undertook periodic testing of a national sample of children at Grades 3 and 6 in order to establish the health of the schooling system in delivering the new curriculum. The NDoE expressed dissatisfaction with its test instruments on the grounds that they did not provide diagnostic information concerning the strengths and weaknesses of pupil performance down to the level of the school.
During 2006, JET was approached by the NDoE for support and to build capacity in this regard. JET proposed that rather than providing this support in an ad-hoc manner, it should be developed over a three-year period. This led to a three-way public/private partnership between the NDoE, JET and Zenex Foundation.
The Government’s objective in forming a project partnership with Zenex and JET was to, inter alia, build capacity within the Department of Education by:
- providing technical support in the design of the NSE for Grade 3;
- providing technical support to design the test instruments; and
- employing a statistician to analyse the systemic evaluation results and ensure that results are used to plan for corrective action within the Department.
The outputs for JET in the research included:
- the design of Grade 3 tests for Numeracy and Mathematics;
- completion of the NSE for Grade 3;
- completion of a report for the NDoE on the Systemic Evaluation for Grade 3;
- completion of a comparative report for the NDoE on South African learners’ performance versus Southern African and East African peer learners.
- The learners’ overall performance was low on average for Literacy and Numeracy.
- There was a decrease in national performance in Literacy and Numeracy between 2001 and 2007.
- There was an increase in the percentage of non-performing learners for both Literacy and Numeracy, with 56% learners attaining 200 points or lower in 2007 in Literacy compared to 50% in 2001. In addition 1.5% more learners attained 150 points (the lowest category) as compared to 2001. In Numeracy, this situation was significantly worse, with 81% of the learners achieving 200 points or less compared with 63% in 2001.
- The Western Cape achieved the highest performance in Literacy (243 points), 15 points more than Free State, which achieved the second highest score. Western Cape again scored highest in Numeracy (246 points) with Free State second (226) and Gauteng a close third (223).
- In total, four provinces’ scores decreased between 2001 and 2007: KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, Limpopo and Mpumalanga. Limpopo and Mpumalanga also had the largest decreases in performance in Literacy.
- Limpopo was the worst performing province in Numeracy and had the largest decrease in performance. A major concern was the worsening performance of learners in Limpopo which scored substantially below all other provinces and showed the greatest decrease of 28 points from 188 to 160 points. A drop of 28 points is significant in education terms.
- On a national level, none of the learning outcomes for either Literacy or Numeracy were achieved by learners. The tests were expanded in 2007 in order to obtain more detailed knowledge of learner performance, and this allowed for a closer diagnostic analysis of the knowledge and skills of Grade 3 learners. Most of the Learning Outcomes were considered partially achieved.
At a more detailed level, key findings included:
- Reading comprehension and independent writing were poorly developed among most Grade 3 learners – children struggled with reading comprehension and were seemingly unable to construct a sentence or formulate answers in their own words.
- Most learners were unable to perform arithmetic operations on two-, three- and four-digit numbers. This is noticeable for addition, and even more so for subtraction, multiplication and division. According to the National Curriculum Statements, by Grade 3 learners should have been proficient in these skills.
- Learners in schools in higher socio-economic areas performed better than learners in lower socio-economic areas in Literacy and Numeracy.
- Girls performed better than boys in both Literacy and Numeracy – significant differences were found in 2007 where girls outperformed boys (205 points compared to 195 in Numeracy and 215 points compared to 200 in Literacy). These findings were also noted in 2001.
- Children of grade-appropriate age outperformed older children in Literacy and Numeracy. Learners aged 8 and 9 years achieved the highest scores compared to older learners. Children older than 10 years would typically be those who had repeated at least one grade.
- In schools where the Langauge of Learning and Teacher (LOLT) was English or Afrikaans, the learners performed significantly better in Literacy and Numeracy than in those using African languages.
- The next highest achieving language was Sesotho. Of considerable concern was the significant decrease in achievement for learners learning in SiSwati, Tshivenda and Xitsonga.
- English speaking learners performed better in Literacy and Numeracy than those speaking all other languages in both 2007 and 2001. In terms of learners’ home language, children speaking English at home achieved the highest scores for Literacy. The performance of English-speaking learners increased substantially by almost 30 points in 2007 in Literacy and by more than 50 points in Numeracy.
It can be noted that The Foundation for Learning campaign was introduced to intervene and remedy the poor performance revealed in the systemic evaluation. In addition, the Department of Education introduced a structured learning programme with lesson plans for teachers and work books for learners. The implementation of these interventions started with the Foundation Phase in 2010. The systemic evaluation thus galvanised the Department into action to improve performance in literacy and numeracy.