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Local high school juniors falling behind in applied math, EQAO results show

Overall declining scores in math raised the ire of Ontario’s newly minted Education Minister Lisa Thompson, who said the standardized testing results are unacceptable
Back-to-basics math will provide students the foundation they need for success, Newmarket public school trustee Martin Van Beek says.

A wide achievement gap between Grade 9 high schools students in the academic and applied math streams at York Region’s public and Catholic school boards was revealed this week in large-scale provincial testing results. And it’s a concern about which the exam administrator itself and public education advocate People for Education have sounded the alarm bell since at least 2013.

The Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) yesterday released board-specific results for grades 3, 6 and 9 students in the subject areas of reading, writing and math, along with Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT) results for Grade 10 students. The EQAO is an independent agency of the Ontario government that conducts annual provincewide tests to measure student achievement and ensure accountability at school boards.

There was a 48-per-cent gap in math scores for high school juniors at the York Catholic District School Board, and a 39-per-cent gap, respectively, at the York Region District School Board.

In other words, among York Catholic’s Grade 9 students in the college and university-streamed academic math course, 87 per cent achieved provincial standards. For students taking the more practical and hands-on applied math, only 39 per cent met the goal.

Over at York’s public board, 90 per cent of academic math high schoolers met provincial standards, while only 51 per cent of students in applied math made the grade.

In its 2015 study, Applied or Academic: High impact decisions for Ontario students, People for Education wrote: “A recent study by the Toronto District School Board shows that Grade 9 students taking mostly applied courses were much less likely to have graduated in five years (40 per cent) than those in academic courses (86 per cent). Previous studies on course programs in Ontario have also noted only 21 per cent of students taking applied math in Grade 9 went on to college, only 3 per cent went on to university.”

But it’s not only York Region students who are falling behind in math. The 2017-2018 provincewide results showed a five-year decline in the number of grades 3 and 6 students who were meeting learning expectations of Ontario’s curriculum. For example, 61 per cent of Grade 3s tested met the provincial math standard, a drop of 6 per cent from the 2014 assessment.

Similarly, Grade 6 students also showed a decrease in knowledge, with 49 per cent meeting the math standard, or 5 per cent lower than the last large-scale provincial testing four years ago.

And while assessments of Grade 9 students in the academic math stream remains high, with 84 per cent meeting the standard, only 45 per cent of first-year high school students in applied math met provincial standards.

The overall decline raised the ire of Ontario’s newly minted Education Minister Lisa Thompson, who said the EQAO math scores were unacceptable.

“We’ve announced that we are refocusing $55 million in existing math investments to district school boards. This funding will support math facilitators and leads at the school board and school levels, as well as provide release-time for our teachers to participate in training and learning focused on the fundamentals of math,” Thompson said in a media release.

Locally, Newmarket’s school children generally fared better than their counterparts in other York Region municipalities, but a return to the basics is needed, Newmarket public school trustee Martin Van Beek said.

“I don’t place a lot of emphasis on the scores and neither do the teachers,” Van Beek said, adding that remedial help is provided to students at schools that struggle with learning achievement. “The math they teach nowadays is something the students will never use in their lifelong journey. The provincial government is going to get back to basics, but there’s no timing on that yet.”

The People for Education report says Ontario’s streaming practices at the start of high school “perpetuates current economic and educational disparities among families. Demographic data from EQAO along with 2006 Census data show that schools with higher percentages of students from low-income families also have higher proportions of students in applied mathematics.”

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) weighed in on the subject in 2012, saying “school practices or systems that start grouping or ‘tracking’ students early on in their educational curricula are associated with larger socio-economic inequalities in secondary educational performance, without any gains in average performance. ...Education systems should avoid early tracking and defer student course selections until upper secondary.”

Meanwhile, the York Catholic board continues to be one of the province's top-performing boards overall, and it plans to look carefully at the local results.

“We have dedicated staff and involved parents who are committed to ensuring our students are engaged,” said Diane Murgaski, York Catholic superintendent of education, curriculum and assessment. “We’re working to analyze the areas where our students had difficulties or challenges and the results definitely do inform and direct our resources.”  

York public board Education Director Louise Sirisko said it will use the EQAO data, along with other assessments, to identify areas of improvement.

“(We will include) classroom teacher assessments and our upcoming Every Student Counts Survey, to inform our Board Improvement Plan for Student Achievement and Well-Being,” Sirisko said. “In collaboration with families and our communities, we continue our work to create learning environments where every student can soar.”

Here are the local results by board:

York Catholic District School Board

Among York Catholic’s Grade 3 students, 83 per cent achieved the provincial standard in reading, 84 per cent in writing, 68 per cent in math, as compared to 75 per cent, 72 per cent, and 61 per cent respectively.

For Grade 6 Catholic school board students, 88 per cent achieved the provincial standard in reading, 89 per cent in writing, and 58 per cent in math, compared to 82 per cent, 80 per cent, and 49 per cent, respectively.

For the board’s Grade 9 students, 87 per cent achieved the provincial standards in academic math, 39 per cent came in below the provincial average in applied math, and 84 per cent in the literacy assessment, compared to 84 per cent, 45 per cent, and 79 per cent, respectively.

York Region District Public School Board

Among Grade 3 students in York Region District School Board, 81 per cent achieved the provincial standards in reading, 80 per cent in writing and 71 per cent in math. This compares with provincial averages of 75 per cent, 72 per cent and 61 per cent respectively.

For York’s Grade 6 public school students, 88 per cent achieved the provincial standard in reading, 88 per cent in writing and 61 per cent in math. This compares with provincial averages of 82 per cent, 80 per cent and 49 per cent respectively.

With regard to the Grade 9 mathematics assessment, 90 per cent of York Region public secondary students in the academic stream and 51 per cent of students in the applied stream achieved the provincial standard. This compares with a provincial average of 84 per cent, and 45 per cent, respectively.

For more information about the 2018 EQAO and Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT) results, including individual school results, visit York Catholic District School Board here and the York Region District Public School Board to see individual school results here

To read the highlight's of the EQAO's provincial math and literacy results, click here

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Kim Champion

About the Author: Kim Champion

Kim Champion is a veteran journalist and editor who covers Newmarket and issues that impact York Region.
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