The Ontario government has expanded the role of the agency that administers standardized tests to students to start testing future teachers in math before they can receive their teaching licence.
At least 70 per cent of the new math proficiency test will assess teacher candidates on content, including fractions, percentages and other basic arithmetic. The rest of the assessment will test them on how to teach the subject in the classroom. Deputy minister of education Nancy Naylor revealed the details of the test to the deans of education at postsecondary schools in a memo sent last week that was obtained by The Globe and Mail.
The Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) is developing the test, which will be administered to student teachers looking to be certified and teach in the province’s elementary and high schools. Currently, the EQAO tests Ontario students in reading, writing and mathematics.
Ontario’s move requiring teachers to pass a math test before receiving their certificate – the first province to do so – is expected to begin in the coming academic year. Several jurisdictions in the United States also mandate teacher testing in math.
The deputy minister provided the details around the new test as falling student test scores have ignited debate in many parts of the country about how math is being taught in classrooms.
Some parents have criticized provincial curriculums that they say do not emphasize practice and memorization and instead encourage creative problem solving in early grades. Increasingly, however, university programs and governments have turned their attention to teachers’ math skills and training. Several universities, including University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, have started introducing courses for student teachers on math basics.
“The new math proficiency test will enhance teacher confidence and sense of efficacy in teaching mathematics, which will help ensure that students are better prepared for success in all aspects of their lives,” Ms. Naylor wrote in the memo.
Ms. Naylor stated that teacher candidates will need a mark of 70 per cent or higher in each of the two sections – math content and pedagogy – in order to successfully pass the test. There will be no fee to write the test the first time, but a fee would be required for subsequent attempts. The test will not be not mandatory for current teachers.
The test will be administered by the province’s faculties of education, but it is unclear when teacher candidates would write it during their two years in the program.
Teacher unions questioned the use of a high-stakes math test for educators and said the Progressive Conservative government should focus on the curriculum and providing supports to teachers, not blaming them, if it wants to improve math results. The government, they say, is making changes based on standardized-test results, which is a snapshot and does not paint an accurate picture of student learning.
“Just as we know that standardized testing of students is not ideal for measuring or boosting achievement, neither is testing teachers the best way to foster any improvements in Ontario’s mathematics instruction,” Liz Stuart, president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, said on Monday.
Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, said in a statement on Monday that it makes little sense to test elementary and high-school teacher candidates on similar math concepts. “This is a problem as instructional practices vary widely between the panels and the content is widely different – expecting a kindergarten teacher to have a firm grasp of calculus makes no sense,” Mr. Hammond said.
Still, Cameron Montgomery, chair of the EQAO, said in an interview on Monday that the province needs to be “pro-active” in changing the direction of math scores. (The government appointed Mr. Montgomery, a defeated Progressive Conservative candidate and an assistant professor in the faculty of education at the University of Ottawa, to the role of full-time chair earlier this year; it was previously a part-time position).
“This test is … a tool to give teachers more knowledge and skills to help them teach math," Mr. Montgomery said. He later added, “We can carry on with the status quo, much to parents and society’s chagrin, or we can be pro-active here and start testing and start training in math to help out our kids.”
On Wednesday, EQAO is expected to release the latest test results in reading, writing and math for Ontario students. The number of Grade 6 children who met provincial standards dipped to a record low in the 2017-18 academic year: Fewer than half – 49 per cent – met the provincial standard in math, a decline of one percentage point from the previous year and 5 percentage points since 2014. (The provincial standard is equivalent to a B grade.)