Ontario’s future teachers could be required to pass a math test before receiving their certification after an appeal court quashed a lower court decision that found a high-stakes exam disproportionately affected racialized educators.
In a decision released on Tuesday, a three-person panel of the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that a divisional court was provided preliminary and incomplete data to assess a math proficiency test (MPT) that was rolled out by the province in 2021. Teacher candidates were permitted to rewrite the test, and more than 90 per cent of them, including those from racialized groups, were successful, the court noted.
“The uncontradicted expert evidence is that the MPT is designed to test teacher candidates’ knowledge of mathematical ideas that any individual who has completed a high school level education could reasonably be expected to understand,” wrote Justice Patrick Monahan on behalf of Justice David Doherty and Justice Ian Nordheimer.
Ontario announced plans in 2019 to revamp its math curriculum and introduce a math proficiency exam for teacher candidates in a bid to improve student test scores in the subject. The test would assess teacher candidates on content, including fractions, percentages and other basic arithmetic. It would also test them on how to teach the subject in the classroom.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce said on Tuesday that he was pleased with the court’s decision to uphold the validity of the math proficiency test.
“Ontario’s Grade 9 math standard was introduced to assure parents that those responsible for educating students have the fundamental math skills they need to help students graduate,” Mr. Lecce said in a statement.
Bella Lewkowicz, an Ottawa-area French teacher with the Ontario Teacher Candidates’ Council, a group that challenged the government’s math proficiency test, said she was disappointed by the decision, which she said was “unfair to racialized candidates, who have to write the test more than once to be equal to their non-racialized colleagues.”
Ms. Lewkowicz said the province would be better off addressing gaps in the bachelor of education curriculum and creating a more rigorous application process for teacher education programs.
The math proficiency test was introduced in 2021.
An Ontario divisional court struck it down later that year. The court said that the results from July of 2021 showed that white candidates passed the test at a higher rate than racialized candidates, and the test therefore infringed on equality rights under the Charter.
The Ontario government fought the ruling.
The Court of Appeal said in its decision on Tuesday that the gap had narrowed by the end of 2021 between white and racialized teacher candidates because they were given multiple opportunities to pass the test. Of the 8,350 candidates who wrote the test one or more times, 95 per cent were successful, including 93 per cent of candidates from racialized groups, the court wrote in its decision.
The court stated that teacher candidates who did not succeed on their first attempt but were subsequently successful in the test were not barred from the profession. It also stated that there was no evidence to support the argument that racialized teacher candidates who wrote the test more than once were adversely affected “by that fact alone.”
The judges accepted the divisional court’s findings that there was a “significant ‘diversity gap’ ” in the province’s teaching profession. However, the appeal court found that the math proficiency test “is not discriminatory by reinforcing, perpetuating or exacerbating disadvantages distinctly experienced by racialized candidates.”
Ontario was the first province to require the math proficiency test. Several jurisdictions in the United States also mandate teacher testing in math.
Teacher unions in Ontario have questioned the use of a high-stakes math test for educators and said the government should focus on the curriculum and providing supports to teachers, not blaming them, if it wanted to improve math results.