Students' early struggles with math count later on, study shows

Pupils who fail to meet Ontario standards in lower grades are likely to have problems in high school

Kate Hammer

Education Reporter — From Tuesday's Globe and Mail Published on Monday, Aug. 30, 2010

Getting off on the wrong foot in math means students stumble into high school, according to new data that tracked student performance in Ontario for the first time for a period of six years.

Of the 14,716 students in the Grade 9 applied mathematics course in 2010 who had failed to meet standards on a provincewide test when they were in Grade 3 and Grade 6, 71 per cent failed to meet standards again in high school.

The report, which was released Monday by the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO), tracked student-by-student results on standardized math tests administered in Grades 3, 6, and 9. The test scores suggest that identifying and providing support for struggling students at an early age is essential for improving student achievement in the province.

“A little bit of prevention is worth a pound of cure; it really is important to spot the students in difficulty and help them early,” said Jacques Hurtubise, president of the Canadian Mathematical Society and a professor in the department of mathematics and statistics at McGill University.

“There’s no point in having them sitting there confused in the classroom. ... It’s a subject that once you drop off, it’s very hard to climb back on the bus.”

The Liberal government previously set a target of having 75 per cent of Grade 6 students meet standards by 2008. Two years after that deadline, the numbers still fall short.

Seventy-one per cent of Grade 3 students, and only 61 per cent of Grade 6 students met standards in math on the EQAO’s 2010 tests. Though the academic stream Grade 9 students performed well – with 82 per cent of them meeting the standard – only 40 per cent of Grade 9 students in the applied stream met the standard, which requires a minimum score equivalent to a B-.

While the academic test is preferred by students who wish to continue studying math in high school and university, the applied math test assesses more practical applications and was written by less than a third of students – many of whom don’t enjoy math as much.

Many students treat math the way the rest us treat our taxes, said Jeff Bisanz, a professor with the University of Alberta’s department of psychology.

“We understand enough to get us by, but we don’t really understand what the heck we’re doing,” he said.

Over time, students accumulate misunderstandings that in many cases, are never corrected. Prof. Bisanz raised an example he is currently studying, in which many students misunderstand the equal sign, interpreting it as “put the answer here.”

“They see 7+3+8=9+ and they’re not sure what to do,” he said, adding that this confusion is prevalent among Grade 2 students and often persists as late as Grade 5 or 6.

The way math is taught is an important part of the problem, and teachers need better training, according to Prof. Bisanz. He echoed concerns raised by Conservative education critic Elizabeth Witmer, who said she’s received complaints from teachers that they’ve been asked to teach a math subject they don’t entirely understand.

“The math program seems to be the one where we’ve heard that sometimes teachers don’t feel totally comfortable,” she said. “... a competent, well-trained teacher who feels very comfortable with that subject can also have an impact on student outcomes.”

Premier Dalton McGuinty said that in other parts of the country and the world the standard is simply passing, well below Ontario’s standard of 70 per cent, or a B.

“If we said the Ontario standard was going to be a C, or 60 per cent, 93 per cent of Ontario students are meeting that standard right now,” Mr. McGuinty said. “But we’re more ambitious for our kids.”

With a report from The Canadian Press



Dont blame all the teachers for all the math problems. Blame society that has feminized the teaching profession where being a male teacher is now a rare thing and a very dangerous occupation riddled with the risks of frivilous and vexatious complaints by man hating single mothers with a gender axe to grind.

Ontario needs to address the "root causes" and not chase the smoke from the fire.

Ontario can best achieve changes by introducing free high quality day care that includes before and after school hours so that children don't have to make those horrible hours of commuting between the various care providers and or educational institutions.

That would also free up a massive amount of traffic that would have other savings and increase economic efficiences across the board.

The other major change Ontario needs to do is to reform Family Law, end the male gender apartheid and get rid of the corrupt man hating judges that comprise the underbelly of the judiciary who are the greatest child abusers around who are primarily responsible for most of the provinces children growing up without a father, Ontario's forgotten resource.

Excellent teachers with a passion and ability for teaching stand out for the right reasons.

Ontario has a wealth of student teachers who deserve a chance and who can make a world of difference if given the opportunity.

Ontario needs to to insure that every newly qualified teacher gets the opportunity to show what they are capable of and may the best stay in the profession and those who are not suited hopefully will benefit from the experience.