Math: Number one problem for Ontario school boards
Bookmark and Share
Aug 27, 2014  |  Vote 0    0

Math: Number one problem for Ontario school boards

As test scores continue to decline, the Peel public board begins a new initiative to make numeracy a top priority in all of its schools.


This year in Peel Region’s public schools, it’s the math that counts.

The country’s second largest school board is going all-out in its bid to improve student achievement — making numeracy the main focus in every school, providing more training for teachers, improving everyone’s attitude toward the subject and even getting parents in on the solution.

“The harsh reality is that our Grade 3 and 6 (provincial test) scores in mathematics have fallen steadily over the last five years,” Tony Pontes, the Peel Region District School Board’s director of education, will tell staff and teachers at a conference on Wednesday before unveiling the aggressive new plan.

“And while our Grade 9 math scores have improved, there are still too many students performing below provincial expectations, particularly in the applied level. That is not inspiring. That is not a definition of greatness. And not what our students deserve.”

Across the province, schools have seen declines in math achievement, with a little over half — 56 per cent — of Grade 6 students achieving an A or B on standardized math tests last year, down from 62 per cent in 2009. Provincial results from the 2013-14 school year are to be released Wednesday.

Over the past decade, Ontario has slipped in comparison to other provinces and countries on international tests. Some have blamed a move away from math basics toward a problem-solving or discovery method; others have said teacher training is key, given that most educators have a liberal arts background.

The Ministry of Education recently provided $2 million to help teachers pay for specialty math courses — taken on their own time — and so far almost 2,000 teachers have applied for the subsidy.

The province also provided $1.5 million for summer learning for 800 teachers, and $500,000 for 100 principals and vice-principals.

In Peel, the math action plan — called EngageMath — includes a board-wide numeracy conference for parents next April.

Pontes is also asking principals to focus all teacher professional development on numeracy. The Peel board ran a math camp for 150 teachers this week to learn effective teaching strategies and how students best learn math.

“It’s teaching and learning for the now,” said organizer Mary Fiore, the board’s math co-ordinator. “It’s not the mathematics that’s changed, but what we know about how students learn math that’s changed.”

Tara Beattie, who attended the camp, wanted some help as she moves from teaching kindergarten to a Grade 7 class.

“I feel so much more confident going into the intermediate grade now; I see those ideas that I have are on the right track — it’s not that learning where the teacher is at the front and talks and you copy it down,” but getting students to learn the basic facts and then giving them hands-on practice, she said.

Lynda Colgan, a professor in the faculty of education at Queen’s University, has created math tip sheets for parents for the education ministry and the provincial literacy and numeracy secretariat. They will be available online and also distributed to schools this fall.

“Parents are very confused about the math curriculum — it looks so different from the math they did in school,” she said. While the terminology and procedures are different, “in the end, kids are getting to the same point.”

The math debate has become very polarized, she said, adding the Ontario math curriculum is a blend of the basics and the discovery approach.

“There has to be a balance — the curriculum has always said that. Anyone who says the curriculum is discovery-based has not read the document thoroughly.”

Boards always face an onslaught of new initiatives and, in recent years, literacy and bullying have taken centre stage; Colgan now expects math to be the focus.

The Toronto public board, which has pledged a 10 percentage point increase in math scores by next June, has hired 10 coaches focusing on math and another 10 focusing on science, engineering and technology, to work with groups of schools to identify where kids struggle, said Christopher Usih, executive superintendent of student success.

Education Minister Liz Sandals said in a statement to the Star that despite gains in graduation rates and some test scores, “we know there is more to do to ensure our students succeed, particularly when it comes to math. Improving student achievement in math is one of our top priorities.”

Toronto Star

Bookmark and Share

(1) Comment

By Hadenoughyet | AUGUST 28, 2014 09:52 AM
That's funny because the teachers and their union have no problem with math when it comes to their compensation package and the need for MORE MORE MORE. Never have I seen an industry that you can fail so miserably in yet STILL demand a raise AND GET IT. We all know teachers will blame everyone but themselves, because THEY and their workplace attitudes could never be the problem right?
( Page 1 of 1 )
Join The Conversation Sign Up Login

Latest Local News


Liberals taking a gamble by reversing election promises: Paul Wells

New Liberal platform includes higher immigration, more foreign investment. It's not what Canadians...



Liberals, opposition still hopeful on electoral reform compromise

Prime Minister Trudeau’s comments caused anxiety among advocates for a new voting system, but...



Insurance veteran to be new head of OLG

An insurance industry titan will chair the board of Ontario’s gambling agency


In Your Neighbourhood Today