Fewer than half of Ontario’s Grade 6 students met the provincial standard in math, according to the latest standardized test scores, continuing a steady decline that has ignited a national discussion about how the subject is being taught in schools.
Results released Wednesday from Ontario’s Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) showed that 49 per cent of Grade 6 students met the standard in the 2017-18 school year, a one percentage point decline from the previous year and a five percentage point drop since 2014.
In Grade 3, 61 per cent of students met the provincial standard in math, down a percentage point from the previous year and a six-percentage-point drop since 2014.
The provincial standard is equivalent to a B grade.
The results come as the Ford government recently announced a sweeping education review that would solicit input in a number of areas including changes to the mathematics curriculum. Education Minister Lisa Thompson has promised to “restore proven methods of teaching the fundamentals” and examine teacher training in university education programs. The Ministry of Education sent a survey to universities asking about the math training teachers receive and the number of hours they spend studying the subject before entering a classroom.
Earlier this week, the Progressive Conservative government released a teacher’s guide and a parent fact sheet on the Ministry of Education’s website. Ms. Thompson said in an email to school boards, a copy of which was obtained by The Globe and Mail, that the guides “highlight some of the fundamental math concepts and skills in the current curriculum.”
“These resources do not introduce new content, but rather, they help focus student learning and connect specific expectations of key math concepts and skills for students in Grades 1 to 8,” she added. “Some of these concepts and skills include working with numbers, recognizing number properties, mastering math facts, developing mental math skills and developing proficiency with operations.”
The government has previously indicated that it wants to move away from the so-called discovery math curriculum, which emphasizes group problem solving and expressing ideas in a variety of ways, to traditional formulas and memorization techniques.
Math has become a divisive issue in many parts of the country. Many teachers have said the curriculum, which emphasizes problem solving, keeps students engaged in the subject. They also say that standardized tests are not reflective of the way children learn in the classroom.
But some parents and math educators have called on ministries of education to improve teacher training and return to a back-to-basics approach to the subject, one that emphasizes practice and memorization in the early years over creative strategies to solve problems. They argue that the curriculum does not allow students to master the basics in the early grades before moving on to more complex topics.
In Alberta, the provincial government is overhauling its curriculum that would, among other things, have children memorize more of the multiplication tables earlier, be introduced to fractions starting in Grade 1 as opposed to Grade 3, and have financial literacy explicitly address counting money.
“Our government has heard parents’ and students’ concerns about math, and we know that strong math skills are key to successful learning,” Education Minister David Eggen said in an email statement. “Future mathematics curriculum will have a greater focus on spatial relationships at younger grades, fractions will be introduced earlier, and there will be a focus on financial literacy. We know there’s more work to do – that’s why we’re continuing to support teachers, modernize the curriculum, and improve testing.”
Manitoba’s new education minister, Kelvin Goertzen, has also indicated his province will look more closely at math curriculum and teacher training, according to a news report.
Ontario’s previous Liberal government had targeted declining math scores with a “renewed math strategy,” launched in the fall of 2016 and included mandating elementary-school students receive at least 60 minutes of math instruction daily and as many as three math-specialist teachers to every school.
Mr. Ford’s government has replaced that strategy with one titled “Focusing on Fundamental Mathematics," and refocused the $55-million in existing math investment to boards to support math coaches in training focused on the fundamentals of math.