Testing program reveals deficient mathematics for health science students commencing university

Gerard F. Hoyne, School of Health Sciences
Keith McNaught, AESC, UNDA


In response to staff concerns about literacy and numeracy standards of commencing students, the School of Health Sciences at the University of Notre Dame Australia (UNDA) Fremantle campus worked with academic support staff from the University’s Academic Enabling and Support Centre (AESC) to develop a Post Entrance Numeracy Assessment (PENA). The PENA was designed to parallel and complement the University’s Post Entrance Literacy Assessment (PELA) and to assess fundamental skills and knowledge in mathematics that should be acquired by years 9 and 10 at secondary school. The explored data highlight that significant numbers of students who embark on a Health Sciences course either had chosen not to study mathematics at year 11 or 12, or if they did choose a maths course, it was at Stage 1 or 2. For those students who studied Stage 1 or Stage 2 mathematics at high school, just 2/49 (4%) met the benchmark score of 65% in the PENA test. More concerning was that none of the 22 commencing students from a Certificate IV entry pathway achieved the benchmark score in the PENA. Therefore recent graduates from high school or colleges of Technical and Further Education (TAFE) display a significant deficiency in basic mathematical skills that is likely to hinder their performance in a Health Sciences course. Furthermore, we found that 21/29 (72%) students who were identified as below the benchmark score in PENA subsequently failed a semester long foundation mathematics unit. The results highlight that many Health Sciences students appear to be unaware of the pervasive nature of mathematical processes within their units and their course of study. A confounding issue regarding student support is that many Health Sciences students are reluctant to voluntarily attend academic support courses.