Original Research

Evaluation and orientations to Grade 10 mathematics in schools differentiated by social class

Shaheeda Jaffer
Pythagoras | Vol 41, No 1 | a578 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/pythagoras.v41i1.578 | © 2020 Shaheeda Jaffer | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 21 September 2020 | Published: 17 December 2020

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Shaheeda Jaffer, School of Education, Faculty of Humanities, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa

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In South Africa, differential performance in school mathematics with respect to social class remains an enduring concern as reflected in national and international large-scale assessments. The article examines the implications of evaluation for orientations to mathematics in a school populated by learners from upper-middle-class or elite backgrounds and a school populated by learners from working-class backgrounds. The particular focus is on mathematics problems featured in tests used by two Grade 10 teachers in each school and teachers’ marking of learners’ test scripts. A distinction between single-topic and multi-topic mathematics problem types is refracted through an analysis that draws on the adaptation by Davis of Lotman’s distinction between content orientation and expression orientation with respect to the reproduction of texts.

The analysis reveals a preponderance of single-topic mathematics problems and the absence of multi-topic mathematics problems employed in the school populated by learners from working-class backgrounds and the presence of both single-topic and multi-topic problem types in the school populated by learners from middle-class or elite backgrounds. Differences in the types of mathematical problems suggest differences in mathematical demand expected of learners and differences in their preparation for examinations in the two social class contexts.

The selection of test problems and the marking of test scripts as instances of evaluation construct an orientation to mathematics that is expression oriented in the working-class context whereas both expression and content orientations are evident in the middle-class or elite context. The analysis provides a potential explanation for the persistent disparity in mathematics performance along social class lines in South African secondary schools.


evaluation, marking, orientation to mathematics, content orientation, expression orientation, problem types, social class; computational resources


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