Math is a problem even for some of Ontario's top-ranked schools, the latest testing data show.
The province's Education and Quality and Accountability Office, which administers annual tests, released data on schools and boards Wednesday that showed little to no provincial improvement in math, but gains in reading and writing.
At the Grade 6 level, 77 per cent of students met the provincial standard for reading skills and 76 per cent met the standard in writing in the 2012-13 school year, up from 69 per cent and 67 per cent respectively in 2008-09. In math, 57 per cent of students met the provincial standard, down from 63 per cent in 2008-09.
Even schools highly coveted by parents are slipping. At Ottawa's Woodroffe Avenue school, 77 per cent of Grade 6 students met provincial standards in math in the 2012-13 academic year, compared with 100 per cent of students in 2008-09. At Allenby Junior Public School in Toronto, 75 per cent of students met the provincial standard, down 11 percentage points from 2008-09.
Math scores have been trending down across the country. While Canada continues to outperform other countries, a 2009 report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development found math performance worsened in six provinces – Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia.
Critics say the math curriculum is to blame for the lower scores because it places more emphasis on real-world concepts and applications rather than building in the basics. Ontario Education Minister Liz Sandals has acknowledged that there is more to do to support students in math.
The EQAO does not rank schools across the province or in each community. Parents and the public need to understand "the whole story of what goes on in a school [and] the many circumstances and contexts that influence student achievement," an EQAO spokesperson said in a statement.
Nevertheless, the EQAO results showed that big-city urban boards generally tend to fare better than smaller school boards.
At the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board in Kenora, only 38 per cent of Grade 6 students met the provincial standard in math in 2012-13. At the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, that number was 60 per cent.
Sean Monteith, director of education at Keewatin-Patricia in northwestern Ontario, said smaller boards such as his face distinct challenges.
His board has one of the highest rates of special-education students in the province, they don't necessarily have access to support services, such as speech language and hearing, and in one northern community, more than half of the babies being born are addicted to opioids.
"Our student success measures need to be considered in a much more global way than just the EQAO measures, because we are dealing with challenges that are more than just numbers. We're dealing with the fact that we really believe we're a lifeline for many children," Mr. Monteith said.
Provincially, in Grade 3, 67 per cent of students met the provincial standard in math, down from 70 per cent in 2008-09. Seventy-seven per cent met the standard in writing and 68 per cent met the standard in reading, up from 68 per cent and 61 per cent respectively in 2008-09.