Maybe Ford and friends should take math pro­fi­ciency tests, too

Will any of this im­prove stu­dents’ math scores? Un­likely.

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Opinion - EMMA TEI­TEL

I failed Grade 9 math and I can tell you with ab­so­lute cer­tainty that this fail­ure had noth­ing to do with a lack of knowl­edge on the part of my math teacher — a stern wo­man who knew her stuff.

It had to do with me: with my own fear and lazi­ness around the sub­ject. And per­haps with the way math was taught at the time. When you strug­gle in a par­tic­u­lar class, you’re not in­clined to solve a prob­lem on the black­board in front of your peers. You’re in­clined to skip that class to save your­self the em­bar­rass­ment.

But that was then (the mid-2000s) and this is now.

I’m not try­ing to pre­sume that my math story is uni­ver­sal or in­dica­tive of the chal­lenges On­tario stu­dents face to­day. And they face a lot of them. Newly re­leased stan­dard­ized test re­sults show that el­e­men­tary-school math scores are on the de­cline in the prov­ince.

But I do think my story is one of many that points to the wrong-head­ed­ness of the provin­cial govern­ment’s lat­est ed­u­ca­tion an­nounce­ment.

Ac­cord­ing to a memo re­cently ob­tained by The Cana­dian Press from the of­fice of deputy ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter Nancy Nay­lor, new On­tario teachers will soon be re­quired to score at least 70 per cent on a math­e­mat­ics pro­fi­ciency test in or­der to teach pro­fes­sion­ally.

This doesn’t mean sim­ply that new math teachers must take a pro­fi­ciency math­e­mat­ics test, but that all new teachers, re­gard­less of dis­ci­pline, will have to take a math test.

It doesn’t mat­ter that the only math a new English teacher may do in her class­room is in her head (adding up how many copies of Mac­beth to dis­trib­ute). If she can’t pass the pro­fi­ciency test, she won’t be dis­tribut­ing any­thing. She’ll be search­ing for a new call­ing.

This is a shame be­cause pro­fi­ciency on a test has ar­guably little to do with teach­ing pro­fi­ciency in the class­room. I may lack a PhD in ed­u­ca­tion but even min­i­mal re­search into the sub­ject re­veals that the fac­tors most com­monly known to im­prove learn­ing and test scores are changes to cur­ricu­lum and greater sup­port for stu­dents.

(And ac­cord­ing to one study: ex­po­sure to sun­shine in the morn­ing.)

The min­istry claims a math pro­fi­ciency test “will en­hance teacher con­fi­dence and sense of ef­fi­cacy in teach­ing math­e­mat­ics.”

But how do we know that any of this is even half-true? We don’t. Like a strug­gling math stu­dent, the provin­cial govern­ment con­sis­tently fails to show its work.

None of this should sur­prise us, how­ever, be­cause we’re deal­ing with lead­er­ship that doesn’t ap­pear to con­cern it­self with ev­i­dence.

If the Ford govern­ment is pre­pared to force On­tario teachers to take a pro­fi­ciency test, he and his peers should (as many on so­cial me­dia are de­mand­ing) take a pro­fi­ciency test, too.

More specif­i­cally, in the spirit of re­spect­ing tax­pay­ers, the Ford govern­ment should take a math test to prove it has the skills to man­age pub­lic money. It should also take a civics test to prove it knows how govern­ment works be­fore it makes sweep­ing cuts to our in­sti­tu­tions.

And be­cause the provin­cial Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives are in the busi­ness of test­ing ed­u­ca­tors on a sub­ject many of them don’t even teach, it’s only fair that Ford et al be man­dated to pass a test on a sub­ject that has noth­ing to do with the act of gov­ern­ing. Say, for ex­am­ple, an exam on con­tem­po­rary Cana­dian lit­er­a­ture.

Will any of this im­prove stu­dents’ math scores? Un­likely.

But it would be fun to watch. And at the very least, Doug Ford might fi­nally learn who Mar­garet At­wood is.

Emma Tei­tel is a colum­nist based in Toronto cov­er­ing cur­rent af­fairs. Fol­low her on Twit­ter: @em­marosetei­tel

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