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Ontario to target math, report cards in curriculum revamp

Nikki Bello holds the door open for her daughter J' Naya Kildare on her first day of class at Grenoble Public School in Toronto on Monday. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Education Minister Mitzie Hunter are set to announce what is being called a “curriculum refresh” on Wednesday, the Globe and Mail has learned. The multiyear initiative is expected to focus on improving student achievement in subjects such as math, where standardized test scores are falling or stagnating.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The Ontario government is planning a major reform of the school curriculum with a focus on improving student achievement in subjects such as math, where standardized test scores are falling or stagnating.

The Globe and Mail has also learned that the changes will include a revamp in the next academic year of elementary-school report cards.

Premier Kathleen Wynne and Education Minister Mitzie Hunter will announce what is being billed as a "curriculum refresh" at a Toronto high school on Wednesday, a government source told The Globe.

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The multiyear initiative to modernize the curriculum will involve public consultations, the source said.

The government's curriculum reform will start with changes to math, the source said, after disappointing results of standardized tests despite a $60-million investment last year to add math-specialist teachers to every school and additional training for staff.

Some math educators have questioned whether concepts are introduced in the curriculum at developmentally appropriate stages.

But the changes are not just to math. Employers have complained that too many students do not have enough foundational skills and the reformed curriculum will incorporate the problem-solving, critical thinking and creativity skills needed for a changing economy, the source said.

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The Liberals will also revise the elementary-school report cards in the next academic year to better recognize students for problem-solving, critical thinking and creative skill. The high-school report will be changed at a later date.

The announcement comes a week after Ontario's standardized test scores showed that, for the second year in a row, half of Grade 6 students failed to meet provincial standards in math in the 2016-17 academic year. That was down from 57 per cent four years ago.

Among Grade 3 students, 62 per cent met provincial standards in math, a one-percentage-point decrease from the previous year. (The provincial standard is equivalent to a B grade.)

Math has become a divisive issue across the country as test scores drop in every province except Quebec. Some parents and educators have called on ministries of education to improve teacher training and return to a back-to-basics approach to the subject, one that emphasizes repetition and drills over creative strategies to solve math problems.

Ms. Wynne's government has targeted declining scores by mandating that elementary-school students receive at least 60 minutes of math instruction daily. Last year's $60-million investment added as many as three math-specialist teachers to every school. It also provided math training to all staff and additional supports for parents at schools where standardized results were particularly poor.

Some educators and parents say the curriculum is to blame, while others say the test is not geared to the way children are learning in the classroom, which emphasizes group problem-solving and expressing ideas in a variety of ways.

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Educational consultant Michael Fullan, who was Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty's long-time education adviser, said he does not support a big reworking of the math curriculum because other issues, such as student well-being, are equally, if not more, important.

He said is in favour of finding out which school districts and schools are having success in math, and learning from them.

"I'm supportive of looking at it closely. All this money and energy is put in, and it should be working. But it's not working," he said. "We need to get to the bottom of that."

Annie Kidder, executive director for the advocacy group People for Education, said she welcomed a reform of all aspects of the curriculum.

"I think that this is a very important move, that we recognize the importance of what are sometimes called … global competencies to student learning in all areas. It's important that we recognize that there's more to life than the three Rs," Ms. Kidder said.

She added: "It's obviously important that kids read, write and do math. But it's also important that they know how to collaborate … and they're able to be successful in a knowledge economy and in jobs that don't exist as yet."

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