City public schools tout improved provincial math exam scores
But students still floundering in no-calculator portion
Students in Edmonton Public Schools outperformed their classmates across Alberta on provincial math exams last year, new data show.
Test writers enrolled in grades 6, 9 and 12 courses in the city’s largest school division didn’t struggle as much as students elsewhere as the provincial government tweaked curriculum and changed test formats during the last three years.
Trisha Estabrooks, chairwoman of the Edmonton public school board, said there’s “lots to celebrate” in the division-level results, which were released on Monday.
“Clearly it shows that our staff are finding tools and strategies that our students need to be successful in math," she said.
Provincially, Grade 9 students are especially floundering in a new portion of the provincial achievement test that must be completed without using a calculator. Last school year, 60 per cent of Alberta Grade 9 students passed the math PAT, but almost half of them failed the no-calculator portion.
Edmonton public students are still scoring below their 70.3 per cent pass rate from 2016-17, before the mental math component was introduced, but 64.6 per cent of division students succeeded on the exam. The proportion of Edmonton public students who achieved an “excellent” score on the Grade 9 exam was nearly seven percentage points higher than the provincial average.
A new written-answer portion of the math diploma exams may have helped students bump up their scores with partial marks, particularly for students in math 30-2.
The division exceeded provincial averages in 36 of 42 measures tallied.
Where Edmonton public trailed provincial standards was in English diploma exams. Estabrooks questioned whether this is because teachers are encouraging more students to challenge the exams.
“Obviously we need to keen eye on literacy at all grade levels," she said.
About a quarter of division students are classified as English language learners.
Many of Edmonton Catholic Schools’ exam results from last school year were close to provincial averages, according to information posted on Alberta Education’s website last week.
The students’ scores were at or above provincial average on 21 measures, and below average on 21 scores. Some of the variances from year-toyear are tiny, and may not be statistically significant.
Catholic students did better than the provincial average in Grade 6 and 9 English PATS, Grade 9 French language arts and Grade 9 science.
However, the pass rates and “excellence” results in all four science diploma exams were below provincial averages. The division also fell short of meeting provincial averages for excellence on many of the exams.
Tim Cusack, assistant superintendent of learning services innovation for Edmonton Catholic Schools, said in an email Tuesday that he and his colleagues are still analyzing the numbers. It’s more important to look at trends over time versus one year’s performance he said, pointing to the division’s history of good exam results.
The slight drop is likely more of an anomaly than a trend, he said.
“We continue to work with teachers, parents and school leadership teams in understanding those areas that require more attention for improvement, particularly at the standard of excellence,” he said.
Jason Schilling, president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association, said Tuesday he doesn’t put much stock in standardized exam results, let alone small fluctuations from year to year.
For example, what appears as a “poor” mark on paper compared to division averages could represent a huge win for a child who gained several grade levels in reading during the year, Schilling said.
Exams fail to cover all the skills curriculum expects of students, such as critical thinking, creativity and collaboration, he said.
“The work that teachers do day in and day out with students is really a stronger indication than one snapshot in one moment in time that a standardized test will capture."