Alberta takes steps to improve students’ math marks

Click to play video: 'Changes coming to Alberta math exams'
Changes coming to Alberta math exams
WATCH ABOVE: Changes are coming to some Alberta math exams after international test scores showed students' math skills are slipping a little. Fletcher Kent reports. – Dec 6, 2016

Starting in 2018, changes will be made to the way Alberta students write their Grade 9 and Grade 12 level math tests.

Students writing high school math diploma exams will once again be required to show their work. Since 2010, students have not been required to show their work on these tests.

Alberta Education also announced Tuesday that Grade 9 students will be required to do a portion of their Provincial Achievement Test in math without a calculator.

The changes come on the heels of the release of the scores from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which saw a downward trend in math scores among Alberta students.

“We will work diligently to improve our math scores by reinforcing basic skills and by introducing new programs. Strong math skills are key to success in learning,” Education Minister David Eggen said Tuesday.

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READ MORE: Canadian students among the top performing in the world: report

In addition, teachers will be able to access up to $2,000 to cover the cost of post-secondary courses aimed at strengthening their math teaching skills.

“We can have a greater focus on the teaching of mathematics, especially in lower grades,” Eggen said. “I’m hoping that by having a bursary program available to teachers, either existing teachers or student teachers, that they can take more focused classes on the teaching of mathematics.”

The president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association called the moves positive steps but said he would like to see how the calculator-free section of the Grade 9 PAT will work.

“How will that correspond to the overall exam and where will its uses be?” Mark Ramsankar questioned.

The announcement comes in the midst of a major curriculum overhaul in Alberta, which is looking at changes to what’s being taught in all subjects.

READ MORE: Future teachers excited about Alberta curriculum overhaul

When it comes to science and reading, Alberta students are among the best in the world, ranking first in reading and second in science.

Despite the success in some subjects, the ATA is calling for an end to the “PISA obsession,” saying the tests don’t matter that much.

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“Alberta is a global leader in education, but we don’t need international standardised tests to tell us that,” Ramsankar said.

“We became leaders by focusing on what was best for Alberta and Albertan students, and we should continue to lead in our own way instead of becoming infatuated with PISA.”

Eggen believes the exams provide a benchmark for the province.

“I think it provides some utility,” he said. “It gives us some comparison over time of where we have been and where we’re going with these tests.

“PISA results are kind of like polling. The number is just the number but you can see change overtime and then that is where you can start to dig down and apply attention and resources and money to ensuring that our students get the best education they can,” Eggen said.

The government has committed $2 million towards the changes.

To see the results PISA results, which come from exams written in May 2015, visit Alberta Education’s website.

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