Math test scores called ‘dis­ap­point­ing’

Num­bers are flat and fall­ing among public el­e­men­tary stu­dents de­spite $60M funding boost to address the is­sue

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - LIAM CASEY TORONTO

— Math test scores among public el­e­men­tary school stu­dents in On­tario have not im­proved — in some cases they have de­creased slightly — de­spite a $60-mil­lion “re­newed math strat­egy” the gov­ern­ment had hoped would help solve the prob­lem.

The lat­est results of the province’s stan­dard­ized tests — con­ducted by the Ed­u­ca­tion Qual­ity and Ac­count­abil­ity Of­fice — show that only half of Grade 6 stu­dents met the pro­vin­cial stan­dard in math, un­changed from the pre­vi­ous year. In 2013, about 57 per cent of Grade 6 stu­dents met the stan­dard.

And among Grade 3 stu­dents, 62 per cent met the pro­vin­cial stan­dard in math, a oneper­cent­age-point de­crease since last year.

No­rah Marsh, the CEO of EQAO, said math scores re­main a con­cern and dig­ging deeper re­veals one area the province would like to fo­cus on.

“For the stu­dents who met the stan­dard in Grade 3, not as many are meet­ing it in Grade 6,” she said. “Cer­tainly, that’s an area of fo­cus as far as in­ter­ven­tion be­tween Grades 3 and 6 so they can achieve bet­ter results.”

By Grade 9 the gap widens be­tween the math haves and have-nots. In the math aca­demic stream, 83 per cent of stu­dents met the pro­vin­cial stan­dard, the same score as last year, but only 44 per cent met the stan­dard in the ap­plied math course, a dip of one per­cent­age point. Aca­demic cour­ses fo­cus more on ab­stract ap­pli­ca­tions of con­cepts, while ap­plied cour­ses fo­cus on the prac­ti­cal.

“It’s dis­ap­point­ing,” said Mary Reid, a math ed­u­ca­tion pro­fes­sor with the Univer­sity of Toronto’s On­tario In­sti­tute for Stud­ies in Ed­u­ca­tion.

“The min­istry needs to work to­wards elim­i­nat­ing the stream­ing of Grade 9 stu­dents this early on. In the spring of Grade 8 stu­dents are mak­ing de­ci­sions about be­ing univer­sity bound or non-univer­sity bound and they’re only 13 years old.”

Reid, Marsh and Cathy Bruce, the dean of ed­u­ca­tion at Trent Univer­sity, all agreed one area of fo­cus should be what’s known as self­ef­fi­cacy — a stu­dent’s be­lief they are good at math. A sur­vey of stu­dents as part of the stan­dard­ized test­ing showed that only 56 per cent of Grade 3 stu­dents and 53 per cent of Grade 6 stu­dents be­lieve they are good at math.

“We need stu­dents to ac­tu­ally be­lieve they are good in math,” Bruce said. “It’s an ex­cel­lent pre­dic­tor of stu­dent achieve­ment.”

In re­sponse to math scores last year, the province an­nounced a new math strat­egy. The $60-mil­lion three-year plan puts an av­er­age of 60 min­utes per day of “pro­tected math learn­ing time” in the cur­ricu­lum for Grades 1 through 8. It also des­ig­nates up to three “math lead teach­ers” in all el­e­men­tary schools and a ded­i­cated math pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment day.

On Wed­nes­day, Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Mitzie Hunter called for pa­tience with the pro­gram af­ter its first year.

“We want to give it time to be able to see the im­pacts and the as­sess­ments on stu­dents,” Hunter told The Cana­dian Press. “But it will fo­cus on math in­struc­tion and dif­fer­ent types of ways of teach­ing math.”

She ad­mit­ted, how­ever, that she’d been hop­ing to see some im­prove­ment in the lat­est math scores.

Reid is call­ing for an over­haul of the cur­ricu­lum and to make math pro­fi­ciency tests manda­tory for el­e­men­tary school teach­ers, as it is for French and English.

Her re­search shows el­e­men­tary school teach­ers in On­tario strug­gle with ba­sic math skills that leads to “math anx­i­ety” that af­fects their teach­ing, and, thus, the stu­dents’ learn­ing.

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