Students' knowledge in natural sciences worsens

Empty classroom.
Empty classroom. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Level tests at schools reveal that the students' knowledge in the natural sciences has decreased in time. Distance learning could have played its part here.

Estonian school students took level tests in math, natural sciences, Estonian, English and German in autumn. These level tests are no longer done on paper; all took place in an online environment. As of now, all results have been analyzed and the feedback sent to schools.

The organizer of the level tests Education and Youth Board (HARNO) divides the level tests into three groups: Natural sciences where the tests were taken for the third time, math, which was taken for the second time and languages where the tests were taken for the first time.

"In the case of level tests taken for the first time, there's no point in bringing out trends. The trends can be evaluated in a couple of years," the head of the tests evaluation department at HARNO Aimi Püüa said.

The clearest trends can be brought out in natural sciences. Püüa said that the three year trend is significant.

"In this year's analysis, a regression in all qualities can be detected. Analyzers have brought out statistically much lower results. The weakest was answering open-ended questions, there the reason could be that people are not committed to forming full answers," Püüa said.

"Yes, it could be due to distance learning, but we can't say it 100 percent."

Fourth-grade students had the best results in analytical skills and subject and research knowledge. The worst results were in planning and interpretation skills.

Seventh-grade students also had the best results in science with analytical skills, followed by planning skills. However, research knowledge and interpretive skills were weak.

10th-grade students also did science level tests. They were best at problem-solving and decision-making tasks. However, the results were low in communication skills and knowledge of the content, where almost half of the students achieved only zero or basic level and there were very few top performers.

According to the analysis of science level tests, schools should pay more attention to tasks that require the ability to compile a scientific text and the reliability of information (sources), the ability to explain and justify scientific models and phenomena, and the ability to analyze, synthesize and evaluate open-ended questions. Natural science lessons should also focus more on discussing science and understanding the cause and effect.

There are no clear statistical differences in the level work of mathematics compared to the previous year. However, in the second grade, the results in fact and procedure knowledge were weaker, in the first grade, the results were better (eg calculation and conversion skills). Fourth-graders had a weak ability to apply conceptual knowledge, i.e. an understanding of the facts and the ability to use them to solve problems.

"It is difficult to say whether this is related to distance learning. However, the weaker result compared to last year is clearly noticeable," Püüa said.

The analysis of level tests also finds that distance learning has improved first-year students in acquiring facts and procedures, as their learning outcomes improved there.

The analysis also revealed that distance learning has not improved the acquisition of facts and procedures and the application of conceptual knowledge through distance learning for the seventh graders.

Level tests were done in Estonian, Estonian as a second language, English and German for the first time. Students had to do both the oral and the written part on the computer, which required not only language skills but also technological skills.

It is also clear from the language level tests that the girls' results in all measurable skills are significantly stronger compared to boys'. The biggest difference in the average performance of boys and girls was in the writing assignments, where girls in the fourth grade resulted 11.6 percent higher than boys and in the seventh grade 11 percent higher.

There is no comparable gender difference in science subjects.

Püüa said that the results of the level tests give good feedback, especially to the teachers, which the teachers should monitor more in their methodology in order for the results to improve in one or another skill. Therefore, in-depth reports by students and classes provide teachers with a roadmap for improving and emphasizing results.

Püüa noted that after distance learning, teachers were very interested in measuring how much of a gap there was in children's knowledge and understanding of learning at home, which meant that participation in the level tests was high. In the future, however, she advises teachers to make choices and not to do all the level tests with all the classes, but rather to make a plan for themselves in which year they want to evaluate the results of which class.

However, these level tests will not be the only ones. Next autumn, social field level tests will be added where students' knowledge and skills in humanities, history and social studies will be evaluated.


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Editor: Roberta Vaino

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