Mathematics: a note from National Education warns about the level of sixth grade students

To the question “how many quarters of an hour are there in three quarters of an hour”, only half of the students entering sixth grade find the correct answer. A warning note published on Wednesday, the scientific council of National Education concludes that there is a “worrying misunderstanding of numbers and especially fractions” upon entering sixth grade.

For many students leaving primary school, “decimals and fractions have no meaning. However, understanding these mathematical tools is essential for measuring any physical dimension,” indicates the Council, which believes that the next generations “are therefore at risk of suffering from a profound deficit” in an increasingly digital world. .

Digital line test

To carry out this study, the scientists relied on essments at entry into sixth grade, including the number line test, which consists of placing different numbers on a graduated number line. This exercise “forces us to think about the magnitude that these numbers represent, while too many students are content to manipulate them without necessarily understanding their meaning.”

But the results are not conclusive. For example, only 22% of students correctly place the fraction 1/2 on a line graduated from 0 to 5 while only 6% succeed in placing the fraction 3/6. Most of these students “are unaware of the meaning of the simplest fractions”, points out the note, which reveals “errors revealing a lack of understanding of the meaning of the symbols they manipulate”. Children confuse fractions and decimals, for example 1/2 with 1.2, or make mistakes when calculating with decimal numbers. Many people think that 0.8 + 1 is 9!

This lack of understanding concerns all social circles. It reaches 85% in priority education, and remains very high (75%) outside priority education and in private schools. Furthermore, girls make many more mistakes than boys. A worrying fact to say the least: no positive development has been detected for 3 years, and that this “huge deficit in understanding fractions” is observable throughout school. The error rate is certainly decreasing, but remains very high in general second grade, where new high school students still make 45% mistakes on simple fractions.

Mathematics is making its mark this year return to first grade in compulsory lessons, and the scientific council makes several proposals to remedy this delay: introduce mathematical concepts earlier, “progressively and intuitively”, while currently, decimals and fractions are introduced jointly in CM1 and CM2, “which undoubtedly explains why students confuse them,” says the Csen. The note also suggests “manipulating concrete sets of objects”, “composing and decomposing geometric shapes” or even measuring “objects of different lengths”. In short, the clic mathematics programs.

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