Who’s to blame for the declining math scores?

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Sabrina Almeida

EQAO results have shown a steady decline in students’ mathematical abilities over the years. Only 48% of sixth graders and 58% of third graders in Ontario met the provincial standard in the last academic year. Down from 61% and 70% respectively a decade ago. Education Minister Stephen Lecce blames the Liberal’s Discovery Math program for the drop. So, the Ford government will be spending $200 million over four years on its math strategy to help students excel in it.

New teachers will also have to pass a mandatory math test. Not surprisingly, this has come under fire from unions who question the value of giving all educators the same test. Especially if they don’t teach math. Their suggestion is to revamp the curriculum instead.

As a parent of a child who had to focus on language used in presenting the problem and solution more than the math itself at one point, I agree that a different approach is very much required. We’ve spent hours trying to get the language right as marks would be deducted despite the right answer. A complete waste of time according to me.

I’m also with Ford on going back to the old-school rote method. Memorizing times tables worked for generations. It lays a strong foundation for learning more complex concepts. How can children who struggle with addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, order and perform advanced mathematical operations? Discovery and inquiry based learning can only be successful when basic competencies are achieved. Furthermore, with everything right from telling time to buying coffee, cooking/baking and personal money management requiring math, these basic skills are essential to daily living. And doesn’t every job require some form of math? Even chefs and landscapers require math when ordering supplies!

Acknowledging that math is a life skill puts all educators front and centre of a successful learning process. I’m reminded of an elementary school teacher who openly voices his aversion to mathematics. His dislike stems from his poor marks in it. More assistance while learning it might have improved his performance and changed his attitude towards it. But what is critical now is the message he is sending his students. Such negative statements made by teachers (and parents) can turn children off the subject completely.

What’s wrong with teachers taking math tests? It is part of a job hiring process in many organizations and irrespective of whether the position requires it. Math proficiency being synonymous with sound analytical and problem-solving skills, employers look for candidates with advanced competencies. Educators who are competent and confident about their math abilities are likely to have and promote a positive attitude in their students. What’s more they can present problems in a familiar context when compared to those who simply look up and rattle out solutions when children ask questions. The real problem is that too many teachers are recycling old material year-after-year (including tests and projects), without a thought for its impact on the quality of learning.
With success in math impacting success in life, I think all teachers should be encouraged to take math courses to advance their skills and careers just as they do others.

Parents too must play an active role by encouraging and promoting a love for math. This can be done by explaining how it applies to real-life situations and getting kids to solve math problems at the grocery store, restaurant, etc. Reviewing and explaining concepts they have trouble with will also help them move ahead.

Everyone needs math and the first step to get children to be comfortable with it is to teach them that they can be good at it. -CINEWS

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