Math grades in Ontario public elementary schools have been decreasing for the past five years according to the standardized assessments administered by the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO). But they can’t tell you why.
Children today don’t need to perform daily mathematical functions like counting change, understanding currency, managing credit cards, calculating totals, performing conversions, determining time values and evaluating percentages. Computers, communication devices, ATM machines and cash registers provide the answers they require – some without even asking.
Concept of Numbers
Just as babies learn to talk and children learn to read, scientists have discovered the rudimentary building blocks of math. How well children grasp the concept of numbers at an early age will dictate how well they do in their future years.
Scientists have determined that preschoolers who know their alphabet letters and know the sounds those letters make, advance their reading skills with relative ease. In mathematics, children need to know numbers and how they relate to words as well.
Fundamental math skills are much more than just the child's ability to count numbers, but an understanding whereby they continually progress and have the ability to transfer their conceptual knowledge to other areas of their lives.
Dr. Kathy Mann Koepke from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development concluded there is other evidence that mathematics matters early in life. Young babies and a variety of animals use their intuitiveness to estimate numbers without counting. This skill denotes the same ability that lets you choose the shortest grocery checkout line at a glance or guides a bird to the bush with the most berries or a squirrel to the largest cache of nuts.
Children who start elementary school without understanding these concepts seem to struggle enormously; therefore, new findings suggest the need to intervene at a much earlier age. Presently schools focus on mathematical problems around 3rd grade and discover math learning disabilities by 5th grade.
“When I speak at a conference on the topic of real-life math, the biggest point I try to get across to teachers is that there is a purpose for math beyond the classroom,” says Matt Kitchen in an article entitled, ‘Show Students the Real Purpose of Math’.
“This purpose rarely gets taught to students, and students rarely experience it because they are caught up in learning standards and then being assessed on them. To many students, the purpose of math is to learn a skill that leads to a grade on a report card.”
Math Curriculum: Back-to-Basics Approach
The Ministry of Education in Ontario wants to reverse the failing grades with a back-to-basics approach in the math curriculum, scheduled to be phased-in over four years. The elementary curriculum will be released next spring and implemented in the fall of 2020.
"Too many students in Ontario are not succeeding in mathematics — a foundational competency that is critical to their success in life and in the labour market," said Education Minister, Stephen Lecce.
Prospective teachers who have applied for registration with the Ontario College of Teachers will have to pass their math test with a 70% grade to receive certification. If teachers do not pass the test the first time, they will pay an unspecified fee to take the test again and there will be no limit as to the number of times they can take the test.
This new test will include math questions based on elementary and secondary school curricula, math assessment and facilitating student learning.
The government will provide funding for teachers who are already in the school system to take additional math courses.
The Ministry of Education has committed $55 million towards the new math strategy in 2019-2020.
Which Way is Up?
The Ontario College of Teachers and teacher’s Union strongly debate the value in having both elementary and secondary teachers take the same test stating it will have no effect on the student’s grades.
Harvey Bischof, President of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation concurs with the Ontario College of Teachers.
"In Ontario's high school system, teachers teach in their areas of qualification…so what we have here is the potential to have an excellent, let's say, art or geography or history teacher, not qualified to teach because they don't pass a math test, a course [that] they would never teach."
"Expecting a kindergarten teacher to have a firm grasp of calculus makes no sense," said Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario.
"The proposed teacher candidate test will not increase math outcomes. Testing doesn't grow confidence, competency or proficiency," added Hammond.
Times have changed and so has our thinking.
Once considered a fundamental of education, cursive handwriting is quickly disappearing from classrooms across North America to a more contemporary and idiomatic, yet impersonal and truncated form of communication. Educators are preparing their students for a digital future where they believe only legible printing and keyboarding skills are required.
Cursive handwriting is considered a non-essential skill and no longer feasible in school budgets.
In Ontario, cursive writing is mentioned in the curriculum starting in Grade 3 but it is not a requirement. Students will only receive cursive handwriting instruction if teachers find the time to include it in their curriculum.
Students that do not know how to sign their name cannot complete forms, obtain a passport, open a bank account or endorse a cheque. A signature is not only very personal but an authentic declaration of your existence.
Children that cannot read or write cursive do not know how to respond to a letter from an aunt, uncle, or grandparent. In fact, all communication written in cursive will be a foreign language to them.
Employers openly state they couldn’t imagine collaborating with people who are unable to read and write spontaneously, effectively, and efficiently – let alone hire them to be part of a synergistic team.
Only 49% of Grade 6 students met the provincial math standard last school year compared to 54% in 2013 - 2014.
61% of Grade 3 students met the provincial standard in 2017 - 2018, down from 67% in 2013 -2014.
85% of Ontario Grade 9 students enrolled in academic math courses were equal to or slightly above the provincial math standard in 2013-2014 through to 2017-2018 school years.
47% of Ontario Grade 9 students in applied math courses were equal to or slightly above the provincial math standard in 2013-2014 and declined to 45% in 2017-2018.
What Happened to the 3 Rs of Education: Reading, Writing and Arithmetic?
Back-to-basics education and instructional experience with fundamental reading, writing and arithmetic is the smartest approach and most logical resolution to any educational quandary. Not only will it provide students with an efficient, balanced and relevant academic foundation but also enable them to adapt conceptualization techniques and skills to solve problems and promote intellectual engagement, analytical thinking and positive communication.
Now isn’t that what every parent wants for their child?
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