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Grade 6 students work as a group on their EQAO standardized test prep, at a middle school in Brampton, Ont., in this 2013 file photo.

J.P. MOCZULSKI/The Globe and Mail

Ontario’s Education Minister has vowed to overhaul the province’s elementary math curriculum by next fall as more and more children struggle to meet the provincial benchmark on standardized tests.

Results released Wednesday by the province’s Education Quality and Accountability Office showed that the proportion of Grade 3 students who met the provincial standard in math dropped to 58 per cent this past academic year, from 63 per cent in the 2015-16 school year.

The proportion of Grade 6 children who met the provincial standard dipped to a new low in the 2018-19 academic year. Fewer than half – 48 per cent – met the standard in math, a decline of one percentage point from the previous year and two percentage points lower than two years ago. (The provincial standard is equivalent to a B grade.)

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Mathematics assessment

Percentage of Grade 3 and Grade 6 students at

or above the provincial standard (B grade)

Grade 3

Grade 6

63%

62%

61%

58%

50%

50%

49%

48%

2015–2016*

2016–2017

2017–2018

2018–2019

Assessment year

* In 2016, elementary schools in the Toronto Catholic District School Board did not participate in the assessments, due to labour issues.

john sopinski/the globe and mail

source: education quality and

accountability office

Mathematics assessment

Percentage of Grade 3 and Grade 6 students at or above

the provincial standard (B grade)

Grade 3

Grade 6

63%

62%

61%

58%

50%

50%

49%

48%

2015–2016*

2016–2017

2017–2018

2018–2019

Assessment year

* In 2016, elementary schools in the Toronto Catholic District School Board did not participate in the assessments, due to labour issues.

john sopinski/the globe and mail, source: education

quality and accountability office

Mathematics assessment

Percentage of Grade 3 and Grade 6 students at or above the provincial standard (B grade)

Grade 3

Grade 6

63%

62%

61%

58%

50%

50%

49%

48%

2015–2016*

2016–2017

2017–2018

2018–2019

Assessment year

* In 2016, elementary schools in the Toronto Catholic District School Board did not participate in the assessments, due to labour issues.

john sopinski/the globe and mail, source: education quality

and accountability office

Education Minister Stephen Lecce called the math results “disappointing.” He said the Progressive Conservative government is rewriting the elementary school math curriculum, which should be ready by next September.

Further, the government is mandating a math proficiency test for future teachers and investing $200-million over four years – $55-million this year – on a math strategy that includes coaches, professional development for teachers and online tutoring programs for students. This money is a continuation of the funding put in place by the former Liberal government.

“We have seen successive declines and or stagnation, both of which are unacceptable for me and the government,” Mr. Lecce told reporters at Queen’s Park soon after the test results were released.

Math has been a challenge in many parts of the country in recent years as the country’s international test scores have slipped, forcing debate on how the subject is being taught in classrooms. Many parents have called on provincial governments to take a back-to-basics approach to teaching the subject, emphasizing repetition and drills in the early years over problem-solving. Meanwhile, governments and teacher-training programs have started focusing on the math skills of educators.

During the election campaign last year, Doug Ford said that, if elected, he would change the curriculum so that students would focus on learning basic arithmetic, rather than what his government called “discovery math," which emphasizes expressing ideas in a variety of ways.

“At the end of the day, what we know for sure is that under the former Liberal government, the plan wasn’t serving students, it wasn’t working and young kids today are paying the price for a blind adherence to a form of teaching that really wasn’t working for kids in the province,” Mr. Lecce said.

However, the EQAO said that the fundamental math skills of children in Grades 3 and 6 were stronger this year than their ability to apply those skills to a problem or think critically to find an answer.

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Mr. Lecce said it was premature to comment on the content of a rewrite already under way.

“What I’ve overwhelmingly heard from parents … was that math scores, in the context of EQAO, the retention of knowledge and the application of that knowledge in the context of young people’s lives … was not meeting basic standards, including the provincial standard,” Mr. Lecce said.

The government has also directed EQAO to develop and evaluate a math proficiency test for teacher candidates that they would be required to pass before receiving their teaching licence, according a government memo obtained by The Globe and Mail earlier this week. At least 70 per cent of the test, expected to be in place for the coming academic year, will assess student teachers on content, including fractions, percentages and other arithmetic. The rest of the assessment will test them on how to teach the subject in the classroom.

NDP education critic Marit Stiles said that if the government wants to see elementary school students perform better in math, it needs to stop cutting the education budget.

“The NDP would like to see an end to outdated, old-fashioned and ineffective standardized testing, so that education dollars can all go into the education of Ontario’s children," she said in a statement.

Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, echoed the sentiment. He said the EQAO test is not a reliable measure of how students are performing, because it only provides a snapshot.

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But Mr. Hammond added that the fact that children are doing well with fundamentals, according to EQAO’s own research, means that “introducing a new curriculum that focuses on fundamentals is not what students need."

"The math curriculum should be reorganized so that educators can see how math concepts connect between grades,” he said in an e-mail statement, adding that it is “critical” that the government consult educators and experts on the new curriculum.

The EQAO scores also showed that literacy results were fairly consistent among elementary school students over the past several years. There was, however, a decline in the number of Grade 3 students who met the provincial standard in writing, down to 69 per cent in the 2018-19 academic year from 74 per cent in 2015-16.

literacy assessment

Percentage of Grade 3 and Grade 6 students at

or above the provincial standard (B grade)

Grade 3

Grade 6

Reading

82%

81%

81%

81%

75%

74%

74%

72%

2015–

2016–

2017–

2018–

2016*

2017

2018

2019

Writing

82%

80%

80%

79%

74%

73%

72%

69%

2015–

2016–

2017–

2018–

2016*

2017

2018

2019

*In 2016, elementary schools in the Toronto Catholic

District School Board did not participate in the

assessments, due to labour issues.

john sopinski/the globe and mail

source: education quality and

accountability office

literacy assessment

Percentage of Grade 3 and Grade 6 students at or above

the provincial standard (B grade)

Grade 3

Grade 6

Reading

82%

81%

81%

81%

75%

74%

74%

72%

2015–

2016–

2017–

2018–

2016*

2017

2018

2019

Writing

82%

80%

80%

79%

74%

73%

72%

69%

2015–

2016–

2017–

2018–

2016*

2017

2018

2019

*In 2016, elementary schools in the Toronto Catholic District

School Board did not participate in the assessments,

due to labour issues.

john sopinski/the globe and mail, source: education

quality and accountability office

literacy assessment

Percentage of Grade 3 and Grade 6 students at or above the provincial standard (B grade)

Grade 3

Grade 6

Reading

82%

81%

81%

81%

75%

74%

74%

72%

2015–

2016–

2017–

2018–

2016*

2017

2018

2019

Writing

82%

80%

80%

79%

74%

73%

72%

69%

2015–

2016–

2017–

2018–

2016*

2017

2018

2019

*In 2016, elementary schools in the Toronto Catholic District School Board did not

participate in the assessments, due to labour issues.

john sopinski/the globe and mail, source: education quality

and accountability office

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