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A schoolboy reads in Spain in this January 2008 file photo.Daniel Ochoa de Olza

Ontario students in Grades 3 and 6 are making some gains when it comes to reading and writing, but are lagging behind in math in an ongoing trend critics say is concerning.

"This should be a call to action for the education system as a whole," said Brian Desbiens, chair of the Education Quality and Accountability Office's board of directors.

"It is clear from the gains in literacy that much can be accomplished through focused attention and interventions once an area of need has been identified — this attention must now be applied to improving math achievement."

The Education Quality and Accountability Office said that the percentage of students meeting standards for math has remained stagnant over the last five years, with 69 per cent of Grade 3 and 58 per cent of Grade 6 students meeting provincial goals.

Grade 6 reading scores have risen to 74 per cent, however, up 10 percentage points over the last five years, while 65 per cent of Grade 3 students now meet reading standards.

When it comes to writing, Grade 6 students are up 12 percentage points to 73 per cent, and those in Grade 3 are up nine points to 73 per cent.

The EQAO also released results for Grade 9, where 83 per cent of students are making the grade in the academic course. That figure, however, drops to only 42 per cent when it comes to applied math.

Progressive Conservative critic Elizabeth Witmer said the province should review what's going on in the classrooms after such a dismal showing in math, and ensure that teachers have the tools they need.

"It's extremely concerning to see the math results going in the wrong direction," said Ms. Witmer.

"This is despite the immense amount of money that the Liberal government has thrown at education."

Girls are also performing better on average than boys, she said, and there is no sign that the gender gap is closing.

The Liberal government pointed out that the overall figures show 69 per cent of Grade 3 and 6 students are mastering reading, writing and math skills, up 15 percentage points since 2003. The Liberals say their work to reduce class sizes, increase supports for teachers and launch a full-day kindergarten program have led to some of that success.

"These are great results, and I look forward to continued improvement in the years ahead," Education Minister Leona Dombrowsky said.

But NDP education critic Rosario Marchese said the standardized testing system just adds stress to an already overburdened system.

"There are tremendous pressures in the system and we have to find a way to do a better job," he said.

"But to focus so much attention on the EQAO test scores as a way of showing that they're doing a great job does a disservice to students and to teachers and to the public."

The EQAO conducts province-wide tests designed to measure student performance in reading, writing and mathematics against provincial standards.