Nine-year-old Christina Salfarlie now has an appreciation for math she didn’t have before. Last year, she was part of a group of third-graders being tested on their reading, writing and math skills.
Her school, considered to be in the inner city by the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), saw a significant improvement in math scores.
“At first, I thought it was extremely hard, but then after I started getting used to it, it became really easy,” said Salfarlie, who is now in Grade Four at H. A. Halbert Junior Public School.
Among third-graders, there was an increase of 29 per cent year-over-year. Sixth grade students saw an 18 per cent increase year-over-year.
The TDSB identified 180 schools in need of extra help with math. Five coaches were dispatched board-wide to help. One of the coaches that helped at the youngster’s school was Dave Leavitt.
“There is a common misconception that ‘You’re not a math person. Oh, that’s not my thing. I’m not a math person,'” said Leavitt.
“But I think that’s when we make a mistake – to over emphasize computation over understanding. We use math everyday.”
The Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) tests hone in on student performance across Ontario. On Wednesday, a board-by-board breakdown was released.
According to the latest statistics, 62 per cent of students in Grade Three met or exceeded the provincial standard. That number is down one per cent from last year. By comparison, it is five per cent lower than it was five years ago.
For the second year in a row, only half of Grade Six students in Ontario met or exceeded the standard. Over a five-year timeline, that number has fallen by seven per cent.
“We would like to have higher scores, but I think for the time being, we’re quite satisfied,” said Manon Gardner, executive superintendent of teaching and learning with the TDSB.
The coaches have been a crucial component of the renewed math strategy, unveiled by the province to bolster test scores, and $60,000,000 was earmarked for it by the province.
One component of the strategy requires the devotion of at least an hour a day to learning arithmetic. It is in its second year of implementation and the TDSB said they plan on beefing up support for students in the year to come.
“We also have access to centrally assigned principals within our TDSB structure and we also have a number of K to 12 coaches that will be concentrating on math specifically.”
Nicole Miller, who was the principal of H. A. Halbert last year, said there can be an element of intimidation among teachers when it comes to math.
“We have a lot of teachers in the TDSB generally, I can think across the province, that are a little bit nervous about mathematics,” she said.
“It’s because in teachers’ college, it’s not focused on.”
“If you don’t take math in your later grades, then you’re in a situation where you may not be as comfortable with the curriculum.”
Earlier this month, the province announced a curriculum overhaul.
“We’re starting with math and this will give us an opportunity to look at the math curriculum and really explore ways that we can improve on the curriculum as it relates to 21st century learning,” said Education Minister Mitzie Hunter.
Results for the TDSB showed 65 per cent of Grade Three students met or exceeded the provincial standard in 2016-2017, a decline from five years ago. Fifty-four per cent of Grade 6 students met or exceeded the standard.