University of Limerick
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Making the transition: a student‘s mathematical journey from primary to post-primary school in Ireland

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posted on 2022-12-15, 16:22 authored by Veronica Ryan
This research study investigated student performance in mathematics during the transition from primary to post-primary school. Academic achievement in mathematics was measured using a standardised test at the end of sixth class of primary school and the end of first year of post-primary school. Progress in mathematics was measured over the transition by comparing these two test results for 249 students. This data was analysed for all students and also for students grouped by gender, prior achievement, strand areas (Number, Measures, Shape and Space, Data and Algebra) and process skills (Concepts and Facts, Computation and Word Problems). To complement this research, a questionnaire based on the Fennema-Sherman scale, examined student attitude towards mathematics. Using a nationally representative sample of 304 students, this questionnaire examined students‘ interest in mathematics and their willingness to engage in it including attitudes, emotions and self-related beliefs. The data was analysed for all students and also for students grouped by gender and prior achievement. The motivation in this study came from the author‘s personal experience of teaching first year students. The author has observed, just as national research has shown (Smyth et al. 2004), that students repeatedly demonstrate difficulty in mathematical topics that overlap sixth class and first year, and many students fail to make sufficient academic progress during first year. This research study established a statistically significant dip, more pronounced than any international study of the transition in mathematics, in student performance across the transition. On average, students‘ raw scores decrease by 7% from sixth class to first year despite an additional year of instruction. The results show statistically significant losses in each strand area and in each process skill. A component analysis of student academic performance at the end of first year of post-primary school showed consistent poor performance and statistically significant female underperformance in each strand area and each process skill. The results of this study show high levels of student engagement, motivation and positive self-belief in mathematics. This study also highlights a gender disparity in mathematics self-beliefs, particularly in relation to self-efficacy, self-concept and anxiety. The author compared academic performance with questionnaire responses and found students demonstrated high levels of motivation irrespective of performance. In addition, questions with the strongest correlations to performance are those relating to mathematics self-concept and anxiety.



  • Faculty of Science and Engineering


  • Doctoral

First supervisor

Fitzmaurice, Olivia

Second supervisor

O'Donoghue, John



Other Funding information

EPI-STEM - National Centre for STEM Education



Department or School

  • Mathematics & Statistics

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