POLITICS
08/28/2019 12:52 EDT | Updated 08/28/2019 16:52 EDT

Stephen Lecce Blames Declining Math Scores On Wynne Government

He says student math scores went down after the Liberals changed the curriculum.

Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press
Ontario Minister of Education Stephen Lecce gives remarks at a press conference, in Toronto, on Thursday, August 22, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/

TORONTO — The number of elementary students in Ontario who are meeting the provincial standard in math has steadily declined over the past decade in the English public system — in stark contrast to higher scores in French schools.

The Education Quality and Accountability Office, which administers the standardized tests, said research has shown that for students in those grades, their basic math skills are stronger than their ability to apply those skills to a problem.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the government is developing a new “back to basic” math program to be implemented in September 2020 and blamed declining math scores on the former Liberal government’s curriculum, which focuses on problem-solving that grounds math in its application.

‘Absolute causation’

“There is absolute causation,” he said Wednesday. “Concurrent to the introduction of that approach we saw math numbers decline. So one would have to accept the premise that there’s a relationship between the two. What else is the reason ostensibly for such a decline?”

Fewer than half of Grade 6 students in the English-language system — 48 per cent — met the provincial math standard, the equivalent of a B grade, during the last school year, which is down from 61 per cent in 2009.

For Grade 3 students, 58 per cent met the standard. In the 2009-10 school year, at least 70 per cent achieved the standard.

The EQAO also said that the Grade 9 results are relatively consistent, but there is a persistent gap between students in the applied and academic courses — 44 per cent and 84 per cent of them met the standard, respectively.

Students in French schools score higher

In the French system, 82 per cent of Grade 6 students met the standard. The number has bounced between 80 and 85 per cent since 2010-11. For Grade 3 students, 74 per cent met the standard, up from 70 per cent in 2010-11, but down from a recent high of 81 per cent in 2014-15.

Lecce said he is curious to know why the scores are higher in French schools.

“They are doing something right and it’s not about condemning one and promoting another, it’s just about recognizing best practices, where we can lean on other boards and other sectors for a perspective on how we can be better.”

There are a lot of hypotheses in terms of what the francophones are doing differently from anglophones and unfortunately this is a huge unknown.Cameron Montgomery

Cameron Montgomery, the chair of the EQAO, said it demands further study.

“There are a lot of hypotheses in terms of what the francophones are doing differently from anglophones and unfortunately this is a huge unknown,” he said.

“I think research, a serious research team, needs to be put together to really understand what francophones are doing successfully for their kids, for their children in our francophone schools to be succeeding. It’s a clear pattern. It’s almost like they have a series of best practices that are nebulous that really need to be shared with the whole educational community.”

Literacy results were also fairly consistent with the past several years, except for a decline in the number of English Grade 3 students who met the provincial writing standard.

This past year, 69 per cent of Grade 3 students met that standard, down from a recent high of 74 per cent in 2015-16.

The other literacy test results saw 74 per cent of Grade 3 students meet the provincial reading standard, 81 per cent of Grade 6 students meet the reading standard, and 82 per cent of Grade 6 students meet the writing standard.

But there is also a large gap between applied and academic courses, with 41 per cent of students in the Grade 10 applied course meeting the literacy standard, and 91 per cent of students in the academic course meeting it.

The NDP called for an end to EQAO tests, saying money should instead be spent in the classroom, and random sampling could instead spot early trends.

Lecce also announced Wednesday that although the new math curriculum would not be in place for this academic year, the first $55 million of the government’s four-year, $200-million math strategy would flow this year.