Teacher’s unions have been voicing concerns throughout the week as a new mandatory math test is set to be implemented for all incoming teachers.
New teachers in Ontario will be required to score at least 70 percent, will have to pay a small fee for each test they need to take, but will be able to take the test as many times they need to pass.
“A memo from the deputy education minister Nancy Naylor, obtained by The Canadian Press, says the new test will be in place at the end of this upcoming academic year and will include both math questions based on elementary and secondary school concepts, and questions on math assessment, planning and facilitating student learning,” reports to CTV News.
However, teachers’ unions have questioned the value of such math tests, especially considering the great number of teachers who never have, and likely never will teach mathematics in the classroom.
“In Ontario’s high school system teachers teach in their areas of qualification,” said Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation. “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,” states 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.”
The decision to make mandatory a math test for teachers stems from concerns over continually dropping test averages of students across the province.
According to the CBC, Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) scores have shown that “49 percent of Grade 6 students met the provincial math standard last school year, down from 54 percent in 2013-2014. Among Grade 3 students, the EQAO says 61 percent met the provincial standard in 2017 2018, down from 67 percent in 2013-2014.”
“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,” Education Minister Stephen Lecce wrote.
“We cannot accept for two consecutive years, Grade 6 students failing the provincial average,” Lecce told reporters, citing the recent standardized EQAO scores. “The same office will develop the standardized test for teachers,” reports CBC.
While some say that the curriculum may be to blame, others are skeptical of whether teachers are equipped to teach well enough. And others, like Lecce, blame the discovery math curriculum put in place by the Liberal government which focused on fun applications of math and creative problem solving rather than the memorization of formulas necessary for quickly deriving answers.
Premier Ford has also blamed this program for the falling math grades across the province and has made sure that it will be scrapped.
Members of the NDP have also chimed in on the issue, siding with the unions and condemning the plan to test teachers.
“If we want to improve math success for our students, don’t take away their teachers,” said NDP education critic Marit Stiles.
However, others, such as Theresa Pasquale, founder and executive director of Parents Engaged in Education, think the steps may be necessary, and think the unions’ concerns may be overblown.
“We have to make an improvement somewhere,” she said. “You go through school to become a teacher. If you choose to do kindergarten for awhile, that’s your choice, but I think we want all of our teachers to be equipped with all the skills to guide our kids.”
As far as taking away the teachers, this appears to be a hyperbolic claim. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, deputy education minister Nancy Naylor has already assured that teachers will be able to retake the test as many times as they need. It may be annoying, but it should not be insurmountable.
As for what will actually be on the test, “At least 70 percent of the new math proficiency test will assess teacher candidates on content, including fractions, percentages and other basic arithmetic,” reports The Globe and Mail. “The rest of the assessment will test them on how to teach the subject in the classroom. Deputy minister of education Nancy Naylor revealed the details of the test to the deans of education at postsecondary schools in a memo last week that was obtained by The Globe and Mail.”
This means that, despite concerns, it does not appear that teachers will be required to take upper-level secondary math tests that one would find in courses such as advanced functions or calculus. Rather, it’s likely teachers will have to be able to answer math questions somewhere in the grade 9 or 10 level, which they would have had to have been able to pass to become teachers in the first place, regardless of their area of expertise.