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Math curriculum frustrates parents

By: Heidi Ulrichsen - Sudbury Northern Life

 | Jan 17, 2014 - 11:17 AM |
 Nancy Deni works with her 10-year-old son, Tomasso, on homework. Deni said she's unhappy about how math is currently being taught in the province. Photo by Heidi Ulrichsen.

Nancy Deni works with her 10-year-old son, Tomasso, on homework. Deni said she's unhappy about how math is currently being taught in the province. Photo by Heidi Ulrichsen.

Province acts to combat plummeting EQAO scores

Until two years ago, Nancy Deni's three kids — 13-year-old Joseph, 10-year-old Tommaso and nine-year-old Olivia — attended Sudbury Christian Academy, a local private school.

She feels the school, which uses a relatively “old-fashioned way” of teaching math, gives students a strong grounding in the subject's basics.

But when her children transferred to schools run by the Sudbury Catholic District School Board — her younger kids attend St. Andrew and Joseph attends St. Raphael — she noticed a big difference in how they were taught math.

Like all publicly funded schools across the province, Sudbury Catholic schools follow the Ontario curriculum.

Over the past decade, the province has moved to a system where students spend less time memorizing things like the multiplication tables and more time exploring ideas behind certain math concepts.

But Deni questions whether this new system is the best way to teach kids, as teachers seem to have little time to spend on the basics before they move onto a more advanced examination of the subject.

While Joseph's math skills are strong thanks to his private school days, Deni said she's noticed her younger children aren't grasping the subject quite as well.

She said she's had to send them to private tutors and work with them herself. Often their homework is so convoluted that she has to read the textbook before she's able to help them.

Deni said many parents are telling her the same thing.

“I'm just hearing too many times from high school teachers, university professors and other parents that this concept-based math is not giving the kids the strong foundation they need to understand math, especially later on,” she said.

Deni is one of 844 people who have signed a petition asking the province to change the math curriculum so that it includes more of a focus on the basics.

Similar petitions have also been created in Alberta and British Columbia, where the math curriculum is similar.

The petition Deni signed was created by Teresa Murray, a retired teacher and mother of two teenage daughters from Hamilton, Ont.

When the new math curriculum started being phased in around a decade ago, Murray, who used to teach Grade 1, said she started noticing that she didn't have enough time to work with her students on skills such as writing numbers.

“I was expected to start in with problem solving,” Murray said.

She said the math curriculum doesn't give teachers enough time to teach concepts such as “fractions, decimals, integers and percentages — all those basic concepts that higher math depends on.”

Like Deni, Murray said she's had to hire private tutors for her children. “I was very, very annoyed that I had to pay, because to me, this was basic education,” she said.

This grassroots movement of parents asking for changes in the math curriculum comes as the province has seen a dip in standardized math test results.

The percentage of Grade 3 students achieving the provincial standard in Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) had dropped three percentage points in the past five years, and it's dropped six percentage points at the Grade 6 level.

There has, however, been a seven percentage point gain at the Grade 9 advanced level and a six percentage point jump at the Grade 9 applied level.

Last week, the province promised more training for math teachers in an attempt to boost students' performance.

“Ontario has a lot to be proud of in terms of student achievement, thanks in large part to our great educators and staff,” said Minister of Education Liz Sandals, in a press release.

“However, we know we have more work to do in the area of mathematics. The new supports will help students build and apply their math skills."

Murray said she doesn't think more teacher training is the answer, as she thinks teachers understand the material perfectly well. She said she thinks the province's math curriculum should be rewritten, as is happening in Manitoba and Alberta.

“If we're just going to get more of the same type of thing, it's not going to be very helpful to parents and children,” she said.

Murray also isn't surprised at the dip in EQAO math scores, as she said she doesn't think kids have the foundation in math skills to do well on the tests.

Provincial EQAO math results are also being reflected at a local level.

Grade 3 Rainbow District School Board students meeting the provincial standard dropped three percentage points over the past five years, while Grade 6 results are down nine percentage points.

Sudbury Catholic Grade 3 results were down eight per cent from 2008-2009, while Grade 6 results are down 10 per cent.

The French boards fared better. Conseil scolaire catholique du Nouvel-Ontario's Grade 3 results are up five per cent from five years ago. Its Grade 6 results, however, are down five per cent.

Conseil scolaire public du Grand Nord de l'Ontario's Grade 3 results are up 19 per cent from five years ago, and its Grade 6 results are up eight per cent.

Grade 9 students who met the math standard at both the academic and applied levels for all four local school boards are up, with the exception of Rainbow's academic students, which are down two percentage points from five years ago.

Rainbow board superintendent of schools Lesleigh Dye said the board is definitely disappointed with some of its EQAO results, and is working on strategies such as increasing teacher training and investing in classroom resources.

But she said she still thinks the current math curriculum is the right way to go.

“It is important that students build fact fluency and understand numbers,” Dye said. “But more importantly, they should understand that when you take six groups of six, that's 36. We're emphasizing that they understand what that 36 represents.”

Heidi Ulrichsen

Heidi Ulrichsen

Staff Writer


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