How to Solve Declining Math Scores

My previous post was about the decline of the liberal arts in our Ontario education system, and the countless studies that testify to the importance of not overlooking the arts (as they provide countless skills to students). Yet here I am, a few days later, now reporting the decline of math numeracy in Ontario and other provincial schools, as evidenced by declining student scores on standardized math tests across the country!

The C.D. Howe Report—published in May 2015 by associate professor of mathematics Anna Stokke—is the definitive report on the “math crisis” in Canada. Please take a look at some of the most important statistics:

  • the portion of Grade 6 students meeting provincial standards fell to 54 per cent from 61 per cent over a five-year period
  • Ontario’s Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) showed that the proportion of Grade 3 students who meet provincial standards on math tests also dropped, from 71 per cent to 67 per cent in 2013-14

I’ve only related some of the data from Professor Stokke’s 20-page report which establishes that there definitely is a problem, and a worrying trend in regards to children’s declining math numeracy. Math students are failing to either understand the meaning of mathematical procedures or perform them quickly and efficiently without the use of a calculator. Many math students do not know basic multiplication and division, they don’t know that a remainder is different from a decimal point, and they struggle with simple algebra. But why is this an issue? 

To quote the report: “Some knowledge of mathematics is required for most careers, including business, nursing, construction and various trades . . . early achievement in mathematics is a strong predictor – even more so than reading skills – of later academic achievement, financial success, and future career options”.

So what can we do to solve the problem? (Hint: no math required). One of the main solutions proposed is to focus on direct instructional techniques instead of the popular yet archaic discovery-based instructional techniques, the latter which is claimed to be one of the leading causes of the problem. Another solution is to correct an issue that is also a major contributor of the problem: elementary teachers’ weak math skills. The Toronto Star reported on what is being termed “teachers’ math phobia” whereby many Ontario grade school teachers who cover math don’t understand the curriculum they are teaching. For example, OISE now tests student teachers on grade 7 math skills, and only 55% of them correctly answered this test question: Mary has read 120 pages of a novel, which is 40 per cent of the book. How many pages does she have left to read? (Answer: 180). And as I’ve stated above, it is critical that students acquire math numeracy in grade school. And the problem in grade school is that the majority of teachers have a liberal arts background, and the educational system is set up so that an instructor teaches multiple subjects—subjects they do not all have a degree, in like math. The specialization of knowledge is something that you only really see in high school.

But how can you know if your child’s teacher graduated from a teacher’s college that is committed to solving “teachers’ math phobia”, like OISE? One solution to ensure your child will not succumb to the math innumeracy threatening the public education system is to enrol them in a Canadian private school, especially a certified IB school. Why? Because IB schools follow an international, standardized curriculum taught by IB certified teachers, who must undergo additional training in order to qualify to teach IB programs. This effectively eliminates all of the aforementioned problems that are leading to the decline in students’ standardized math test scores in Canada (especially Ontario).

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2 thoughts on “How to Solve Declining Math Scores

  1. As a 23 year veteran certified math teacher I found your article to be in line with what I have been saying for years. The children do not have knowledge of numbers, place value, basic facts of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. The students do not understand regrouping in addition and subtraction. I have students for three years in middle school. I need the time to fix what was not taught or not taught well in the earlier grades. Thank you for the article. I do not feel so alone as I fight the good fight for mathematics.

    Liked by 1 person

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