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Donna Quan, shown Jan. 16, 2013.

PETER POWER/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

The new director of Canada's largest school board has set what she describes as "ambitious targets" to increase by 10 per cent the number of students meeting provincial standards in reading, writing and math by next June.

Donna Quan has outlined her vision for her four-year term as director at the Toronto District School Board. Ms. Quan accepted the position late last month. She had been temporarily filling tahat role since the previous director, Chris Spence, resigned amid allegations of plagiarism.

Ms. Quan pledged to raise test scores from 77 per cent in Grade 6 reading and 79 per cent in Grade 6 writing to 87 per cent and 89 per cent, respectively. She pledged similar increases in writing.

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Over the last five years, reading test scores at the board at the Grade 6 level have increased by 10 per cent. Math scores have declined by one percentage point in 2012-2013 from 2008-2009.

The most challenging test scores to raise by 10 percentage points will be in mathematics, where 62 per cent of TDSB students meet provincial standards in Grade 6. Meanwhile, only 32 per cent of Grade 9 applied math students meet provincial standards.

Nationally, math scores have been slipping. While Canada continues to outperform other OECD countries, a 2009 report found math performance decreased in Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia.

Ontario Education Minister Liz Sandals has suggested teacher training in math needs improvement. Critics, however, contend that the math curriculum rather than teacher education is to blame for lower scores because it places more emphasis on real-world concepts and applications rather than building in the basics. Ms. Sandals has acknowledged that there is more to do to support students in math.

Ms. Quan stated in her plan that staff will review student achievement data and "build consensus on key strategies for increasing student achievement for identified groups."

Martin Long, head of the Elementary Teachers of Toronto local union, questioned Ms. Quan's motivation.

"It's so arbitrary. Why 10? Why not 15? Why not 5?," he asked. "Is there a bonus attached to it?"

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Mr. Long worries that by focusing on the standardized test scores, subjects that involve creative thinking take second place. "With the focus on that number, it drives the teaching away from those things that are harder to evaluable and in many ways more important," he said.

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