The what, why, when, how and who of times table testing

Derry Richardson

Nicky Morgan has announced (interestingly, via social media) that all children will be tested on their times tables as part of SATs.

This debate has been bubbling away for some time now within mathematical associations and education unions, among academics and school leaders, in schools and at home. Essentially our children are stuck between those who believe that testing times table knowledge will:

  • ensure that children are better equipped to access more complex maths fluently and with confidence by identifying those falling behind;
  • help teachers to spot children at risk of being left behind;
  • hold teachers to account for how the children perform.

And those who believe that:

  • a deeper understanding of number, patterns and relationships will increase confidence and subsequently fluency;
  • simply ‘learning facts’ will exacerbate the need for children to understand the relational aspect of multiplying and dividing, and make wider connections;
  • teaching will be further adapted to ensure children meet the expectations of ‘new’ tests and have the necessary skills to manage mental recall tests in an online environment;
  • testing at the end of KS2 is too late regardless if the expectation is that all children should have learnt their tables to 12 x 12 by the end of year four;

Sadly neither party is wrong, but neither is finding a compromise, or clear guidance for schools, in how to manage what is being perceived as yet another ‘raised expectation’ amid the widespread use of terms such as ‘accountable’ and ‘criticised’.

Approximately 3000 children will sit a pilot of this ‘new’ test in 2016, with a full roll out expected for 2017.

At this stage very little is known about the developers of the tests, how results will be measured or reported, how data will be collated and stored, or how tests will be accessed and introduced to schools.

When looking at the cycle of teaching, assessment and accountability, I strongly believe that we must first ask: what are my children going to learn and how? Once this is established, I can move to designing assessment opportunities that will enhance my teaching, and their learning, as a direct result. Finally, I concern myself with accountability. Yet again, the term accountability will ricochet through our profession and be misinterpreted, rebuked, feared and ignored. Those who suffer as a consequence of our actions as a profession remain the children we profess to put above all else. So, let’s do that! Let’s consider what we want our children to learn:

  • We want them to understand number and number relationships
  • We want them to be able to see patterns in numbers
  • We want them to master key concepts and skills in order to move fluently from one to another making connections and drawing on their experiences
  • We want them to build stronger working memories and confidence in themselves as learners and mathematicians
  • We want them to ask questions, analyse, construct, deconstruct and reconstruct to deepen their understanding and consolidate new learning
  • We want to improve the lives of children

When, at the end of this exciting, intriguing adventure into mathematics they are tested, let’s remember to reassure them, and ourselves, that a test is an isolated moment in time capturing one aspect of what they can do, not who they are and what they can be.

Derry Richardson is the Professional Development Leader for Numicon. She is an outstanding classroom practitioner and Leading Mathematics Teacher, with experience teaching across the Primary and Early Years phases. Follow her on Twitter @PdDerry.