The Importance of Qualitative Math Assessment

Assessment can play a vital role in expressing, explicitly and clearly, the outcomes toward which reform in Mathematics is aimed. Assessments may change along with instructions and it can help teachers, parents and students to keep track of their progress. Assessment is inevitable in the education process.

Generally, the most visible assessments are summative. They are used to measure what students have learnt at the end of a unit, to promote students to ensure they have met required standards to attain certifications to mark the completion of school or as a method for selecting students for entry into further education.

However, assessments may also serve as a formative function. In classrooms, formative assessments are referred to as frequent, interactive assessments of learner’s progress and understanding to identify learning needs which allows teachers to adjust teaching appropriately. Teachers who use formative assessment approaches and techniques are better prepared to meet diverse students’ needs- through differentiation and adaptation of teaching to raise levels of student achievement and to achieve greater equity of student outcomes.

These are the commonly used assessments in Math: Screeners, Standardised Assessment and Qualitative Assessment. Screeners help teachers to distinguish between those individuals who have poor maths attainment and those whose difficulties are associated with dyscalculia. Standardised Assessments are formal assessments that have been designed to measure a child’s abilities compared to other children of their age. In Singapore’s context, these are the Math examinations- CA/SA/Year-end papers/ National Exams. Qualitative Assessment is focused on understanding how people make meaning of and experience their environment and world (Patton, 2002). Qualitative Assessment is a form of Formative Assessment.

Standardised assessment and qualitative tests work together. Qualitative Assessments tells us why they are not able to do the question in a standardised test or a screener. It helps us to understand why the learner has answered the question in a certain way. In other words, it gives the teacher an opportunity to understand why and how a child has responded to a question. It provides a deeper understanding of the child’s learning abilities.



Standardised Question: 27 + 8

If the answer was left blank, the teacher may want to ask the following questions

1) Did the child understand the question?
2) Can the child add two numbers?
3) Were they frightened to write an answer in case it was incorrect?

For the same question, if the child has answered it as 32, then the teacher may want to ask the following questions

1) Did the child misunderstand the question?
2) Is the child not able to accurately add two numbers?
3) Does the child find it difficult to distinguish between the formation of a 2 and a 5?


Therefore, it is important to understand the child’s error by addressing why a child has responded to a question in a particular way so that we are able to better recognize their difficulties. If we are able to do so accurately, it will be easier to address the root of the problem.

Qualitative Assessment allows one to drill down into the student’s understanding. As compared to summative assessments, qualitative assessments involve discussions, concrete resources and interactive games which will lower anxiety levels and give a more accurate picture of the student’s math abilities. It also helps them to rebuild confidence and enjoyment of maths.

In qualitative assessment, real knowledge is not just written answers but rather it is demonstrated. It helps teachers to understand the depth of their knowledge. In this process, students’ use of language and maths vocabulary can be analysed. It encourages interaction with concrete resources and also reveals the child’s reasoning skills. It also provides an opportunity for the teachers to read the body language of the learner. As such, greater emphasis should be given to such formative assessments in the classroom in order to enhance the effectiveness of a child’s learning and to provide a more positive and non-threatening learning environment.

Written by: Rebecca Shalinah, Lead Educational Therapist