While there’s been a great deal of focus on enhancing STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) literacy in Ontario, data indicates that many students still struggle with math.
And while experts differ on how to tackle the issue (and whether educators or curricula or both are to blame), the province is hoping to improve scores by implementing a four-year, multi-million dollar math strategy.
After news broke that the Doug Ford government would require all teachers–even those who don’t teach math or science–to pass math tests, the province announced that it is also working to elevate student math scores by “going back to basics.”
Ontario’s Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, recently announced the details of the new $200-million math strategy that the province says will ensure students and educators have the math skills and resources to succeed.
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“As the recently-released EQAO results confirm, our students are still struggling to meet provincial math standards,” said Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education. “We will never accept the status quo, we are demanding better for our kids by investing in a landmark multi-year strategy that will, from day one, help our students and educators build the confidence and knowledge to excel in math.”
According to the data from EQAO’s 2018–2019 assessments, the trends in math are actually relatively consistent, except for the decline among students in Grade 3.
In Grade 3, 58 per cent met the provincial math standard, a four-percentage-point decrease from the average of the previous three years.
In Grade 6, 48 per cent met the provincial math standard, a one-percentage-point decrease from the average of the previous three years.
In the Grade 9 academic course, 84 per cent met the provincial math standard in 2019, which is consistent with the average of the previous three years.
In the Grade 9 applied course, 44 per cent met the provincial math standard, a one-percentage-point decrease from the average of the previous three years.
Not unexpectedly, many students reported struggling with math–especially in the higher grades.
EQAO data suggests that across the primary and secondary levels, fewer than 60 per cent of students reported liking or being good at math.
Higher percentages of Grade 3 students like math and see themselves as good at math (57 per cent and 55 per cent respectively) than do Grade 6 students (50 per cent and 52 per cent respectively).
One-third of Grade 9 students enrolled in the applied course like math and a similar percentage see themselves as good at math (35 per cent and 32 per cent respectively), while more than half of Grade 9 students enrolled in the academic course like math and a similar percentage see themselves as good at math (57 per cent and 54 per cent respectively).
The EQAO report says elementary teachers use a variety of approaches to teach math. The instructional strategies most commonly used are independent practice (91 per cent in Grade 3 and 96 per cent in Grade 6) and direct instruction (91 per cent in Grade 3 and 95 per cent in Grade 6).
The government announced details of the first year of funding under the new $200-million math strategy–beginning with an initial investment of $55 million in the 2019-2020 school year.
The province says these investments will:
Provide funding to all school boards in the province to hire math-learning leads to coordinate and support board-level improvement efforts;
Invest in extensive training and coaching in over 700 targeted elementary and secondary schools, providing educators with direct access to experts and evidence-based instruction to develop the knowledge and pedagogy for better equipping students to succeed in math;
Expand online tutoring programs for students to make sure opportunities for high-quality math instruction is not limited to the classroom;
Deliver $6 million in support for summer learning programs to prevent learning loss;
Ensure new teachers entering the profession have the skills to teach math, and involve math in their teaching where appropriate, through investments in professional development for educators dealing with math proficiency; and
Contribute $4 million to subsidize additional qualifications (AQ) math courses for teachers, which will further build skills and confidence for educators at the front of the classroom.
While math scores have generated some concern, it’s important to note that Ontario students excel academically in general. Overall, the graduation rate continues to grow across the province. In 2018, the five-year graduation rate increased to 87.1 per cent – up from 86.3 in 2017. The four-year graduation rate is now 81.2 per cent – up from 79.8 in 2017.