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Math scores sag despite Liberal spending

By Sue-Ann Levy, Toronto Sun

Under the watch of the former so-called education premier — Dalton McGuinty — funding for the education portfolio increased by a whopping $5.1 billion over the last five years.

That does not include the 2% raise his successor, Kathleen Wynne, recently gave her 76,000 teacher pals in the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (EFTO) just before they left their classrooms for two months summer vacation — after a year of “fighting for their democratic rights” (as the EFTO manifesto from this year’s convention is called).

From 2007 to 2011, the average salary for an Ontario teacher increased by 18%.

In his excellent 2012 report, Don Drummond found that not only have class sizes in the elementary panel decreased, but prep time allotted to elementary teachers has increased steadily from 152 minutes per week in 2002-03 to 240 minutes per week in 2011-12.

If the latest dismal math test results for Grades 3 and 6 Ontario students prove anything, it is indeed that throwing more money at education has not added up to student success.

The results in the most recent standardized Education and Accountability Office (EQAO) testing show that while reading and writing results are holding their own, only 67% of Grade 3 students met the provincial standard — considered a “B” grade.

That’s down from 70% in 2008-09.

In Grade 6, a mere 57% of students achieved the provincial standard, down from 63% in 2008-09.

Even worse, almost one in five Grade 6 students no longer meet the provincial standard in math they once managed to meet in Grade 3.

It should certainly be food for thought in elementary classrooms around the province as kids get set to head back to school Tuesday.

For Education Minister Liz Sandals to blame the terrible test results on the fact that most elementary teachers have an arts background and are not “comfortable” with math is — frankly— an insult to our intelligence.

This is the elementary panel, for heaven’s sake. We are not talking about higher-order math formulas.

I had an arts background myself — having obtained an undergraduate degree in journalism — and had not taken math beyond high school when I passed my GMAT and took my MBA at night at the University of Toronto.

In other words, it didn’t take a math gene to be successful, just a willingness to explore another discipline.

Doretta Wilson, executive director of the Society for Quality Education, says the latest math results were achieved, or should I say not achieved, even as students are allowed to use calculators in class and during the standardized tests.

She says the problem has been, and continues to be, that the math curriculum in the primary grades does not focus enough on teaching the basics — like making sure students know how to add, subtract, multiply and divide.

“The curriculum is a mile wide and an inch deep,” she says, noting there is far too much emphasis on creative problem solving and allowing students to “discover math” for themselves.

“There’s a whole movement away ... They (teachers) don’t want to drill students,” she added, noting learning math is like learning a musical instrument in that there needs to be time to practise the basics.

Wilson also notes that even if kids don’t understand the concepts, they get promoted to the next grade anyway — pushing them further and further behind.

There’s a reason why parents are turning increasingly to outside math programs.

Mathnasium Forest Hill owner Kate Murray said she’s not at all “surprised” with the EQAO test results. In fact, that’s why she opened the business.

“There is a real hole in the numeracy side of education,” she told me Sunday, noting the Ontario school curriculum has put a far stronger emphasis on literacy.

She said “absolutely” the basic core competencies — like adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing — are being rushed through Ontario schools.

Their programs try to “focus on the basics,” she said.

“Some of our kids can’t even read a clock,” she added.

Vernon Gonsalves, of Kumon Math, said the difference between them and what is offered in Ontario classrooms relates to the “approach” taken to math instruction.

He said in Ontario schools a math concept may be introduced one year and then expanded upon in subsequent years (in other words, taught piecemeal).

“Our students work through the program in a very linear fashion — concept by concept and level by level,” he said.

And while they do give their students achievement tests, their objective is to “confirm that they have understood the concepts to determine if they should move on, or spend a little more time reviewing the material before trying again.”


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