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'Children struggling needlessly': York school board brings back applied math

After protests from parents and teachers when the course was eliminated, YRDSB is to offer a Grade 10 applied option to students who are struggling
Newmarket High School math teacher Susan Carson said she is retiring a couple of years earlier due to the loss of Grade 10 applied math. She said she has seen some students struggle too much from the loss of the course and it is a valuable option.

Newmarket High School math teacher Susan Carson wants to see her students succeed.

She said Grade 10 applied math was her favourite course to teach, as she saw students who frequently felt they could not do math well learn that they can succeed when engaged well. But she was upset when the course was eliminated at York Region District School Board this year, and all students required to take de-streamed Grade 10 math.

It led to student struggle, she said, and the difficulty of dealing with that has prompted her to retire this year, two or three years earlier than she expected. 

“I can’t do my job anymore. I cannot encourage children to be in a path for success, and it breaks my heart,” she said. “I see these children struggling needlessly … There is so much good in having that (applied) pathway.” 

After protests from both parents and teachers, York Region District School Board now plans to bring back Grade 10 applied math in alternative education settings.

Interim director of education Scott Yake told trustees June 20 that staff would be working on re-implementing Grade 10 applied math in limited ways next school year after it was removed this year to "de-stream" the grade.

The director said the credit could be available on a case-by-case basis for struggling students, delivered through options like online learning, night school and summer school.

Although details remain to be determined, board of trustees chair Ron Lynn said they have heard from parents, and they will be watching this matter closely.

“Myself, and my trustee colleagues, over the past two weeks, have received a lot of very important, valuable and genuine reach-out from parents,” he said. “I will continue to keep the director accountable … We want to have this plan in place.” 

The province recently de-streamed Grade 9 math, but YRDSB went a step further to remove Grade 10 applied math and history, only offering the more advanced academic options. The de-streaming efforts are meant to create more equity and avoid pigeonholing students, with marginalized students often unfairly pushed into applied streams at higher rates. 

But some parents protested that their children have been unable to manage with Grade 10 academic math regardless of the support provided, and not having an alternative option has been a major issue. 

Carson said she supports de-streaming of the Grade 9 course but that cutting off applied math was wrong. Unlike in Grade 9 where a new course was created by the Ministry of Education, no new de-streamed course came into place for Grade 10 beyond the existing academic option. 

“Taking away a pathway is not allowing students to be successful,” she said, adding that for some students, the Grade 10 academic course is not approachable. “Students who would ordinarily have thrived and blossomed in the applied pathway are limited, so limited because they are not earning the credit, so when what do you do?”

Staff presented statistics for about 4,800 students who took Grade 10 academic math in the past semester. Although about 85 per cent of students are likely to obtain a credit, about 700 were prioritized for support, with about 350 of those students expected to obtain a credit. The board does offer tutoring and credit recovery opportunities.

Yates said staff will work to continue to support students. 

“In year one of this important work, we regularly monitor our results and continue to do so,” Yates said. “There is always and will always be more work to do.” 

Although board staff does not intend to bring back applied math as a general option, they indicated they would work through the summer to develop a plan that could allow students to take it in specific circumstances. 

But Trustee Melanie Wright said it may not be practical to offer courses on a case-by-case basis given budget constraints. She said all students should have the option to take applied math.

“It feels like we’re creating something to support the struggling students, but then we’re looking at individual students each time, when I believe we should be supporting students as a whole,” Wright said. 

Associate education director Tod Dungey said the plan will be crafted in the summer as to how the course might be made available, but the priority will be on students who have not succeeded in math this year.

Parent Rozanne Treger has advocated for the return of applied math. She said parents are pleased YRDSB is acknowledging the issue, but concern remains on how applied math will be implemented.

"There is the potential for great variability in how students will be identified who qualify for accessing the applied curriculum.  If this is being implemented by YRDSB staff identifying students who may qualify, then there is the possibility that many may be missed," she said. "It is a great start, but the implementation is likely to be fraught with barriers to equitable accessibility."

Treger added that students should not have to take classes in the evening or summer because they have different learning needs. 

The news from YRDSB gives Carson hope. She added while the board should just bring back the applied course as a whole, it is positive they are recognizing there is an issue and are making a change.

Those students who might take the applied course “just needed to be given what they need,” Carson said. “Time, a different way of looking at things, like-minded thinkers. All those things come together to create this environment where children literally blossom.”