Reality Check: Do Ontario students have the lowest math scores in Canada?
Since before last year’s Ontario election, Premier Doug Ford has been speaking out about Ontario students’ math scores, which he said are declining.
“The teachers’ union, they have to get together with the times here. Our Grade 6 students are the lowest math scores in the entire country. Our system is broken — we need to fix it,” Ford told reporters Tuesday.
The Ontario government recently announced a four-year math strategy for all students in Grades 1 to 12 that will “emphasize basic concepts and skills contributing to students’ future success and be accompanied by parent and teacher resources.” The first elements of the new curriculum are scheduled to become available in September 2019.
The provincial government has also announced that new teachers will be required to pass a math test to become certified in Ontario. If teachers are already in the system, the government has announced that it will provide funding for them to take additional math courses.
But what’s the reality with Ontario students’ test scores?
The Math Stats
The Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) is an independent organization that creates and distributes large-scale tests to measures Ontario students’ achievements in math, reading and writing.
According to the EQAO, 67 per cent of Grade 3 students were at or above the provincial standard for math in 2013-2014, while that number declined to 61 per cent in 2017-2018.
On the other hand, 54 per cent of students in Grade 6 in 2013-2014 scored at or above the provincial standard for math, while the number was 49 per cent for Grade 6 kids in 2017-2018.
“There has been a decline in Grade 6 student achievement in math over the past five years,” said Lynda Colgan, a professor in the education faculty at Queen’s University. “However, it is not possible to compare the Ontario results to other provincial results because each province has its own metric for assessing the students.”
Ontario’s Ministry of Education did not respond to request for comment today regarding Ford’s claims that Grade 6 students in the province have the lowest math scores in the country.
WATCH: Doug Ford tells Ontario teachers to ‘get with the times’
Moreover, according to the EQAO, 85 per cent of Grade 9 students enrolled in academic math courses were at or above the provincial math standard in 2013-2014. That number remained somewhat steady and was at 84 per cent in 2017-2018.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, 47 per cent of Grade 9 students in applied math courses were at or above the provincial math standard in 2013-2014. That number experienced a minor decline to 45 per cent in 2017-2018.
The Literacy Stats
Data from the EQAO indicates that between 2013-2014, 70 per cent of Grade 3 students were at or above the provincial standard for reading, while the number was 78 per cent for writing. For reading, the number increased to 75 per cent in 2017-2018, while it decreased to 72 per cent for writing.
For Grade 6 students, in 2013-2014, 79 per cent were at or above the provincial standard for reading, while the number was 78 per cent for writing. Both those numbers increased to 82 per cent and 80 per cent respectively in 2017-2018.
On the Grade 10 Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test, 94 per cent of first-time eligible students in academic courses were successful in 2013-2014, while that number declined to 90 per cent in 2017-2018. On the other hand, 50 per cent of first time eligible students in applied courses were successful in 2013-2014, while that number declined to 39 per cent in 2017-2018.
Analyzing the Numbers
“The [math] experience that kids get now is not the same as it used to be,” Tina Rapke, an assistant professor at York University’s education faculty who specializes in math education, said. “Kids don’t get that daily practice of… counting change, calculating totals. ”
Today, everything is paid for with a debit or credit card, Colgan said, and cashiers are told what change to give back to customers by the registers, resulting in them not counting the change for customers.
“Around us, we see that numbers are not used the same way that they used to be,” Colgan added. “Part of it is that there are many things happening around them that makes children actually believe that they don’t ever have to use math.”
The questions that students are having the most difficulty with on tests, Rapke said, are ones that involve problem-solving and communicating their solutions strategies. “What we need to work on with kids is problem-solving and communicating their thinking,” she added. “For that, we need really, really well-trained teachers and ones that are spending time translating research into classrooms.”
According to Colgan, children have reported that about only 39 per cent of parents talk to their kids about math at home or support them with their math homework. “It used to be that parents would play little games at home to help their kids learn their timetables or get them to practice math,” Colgan said. “Very little time has been devoted out of school to doing math, and that extra time and effort is absolutely essential.”
While EQAO math scores have been declining, it’s unclear exactly where they stand nationwide.
Experts describe many possible reasons for the changes in math scores, including the fact that the everyday use of math has changed and that students practice it less outside of school hours.
On the other hand, Grades 3 and 6 students’ literacy skills have improved overall since 2013-2014.
WATCH: Ontario government announces changes to education system, including math, sex-ed curriculums
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