Academic journal article International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education

Learning to Be a Math Teacher: What Knowledge Is Essential?

Academic journal article International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education

Learning to Be a Math Teacher: What Knowledge Is Essential?

Article excerpt

Introduction

Large-scale math assessment results have become a matter of great concern in Ontario, Canada, due to declining scores over the years. In Ontario, provincial assessment scores have revealed a steady decrease in grades 3 and 6 students' math achievement over the previous eight years. During the period between 2009 and 2016, the percentage of grade 6 students who achieved at or above the provincial standard in math declined by 13 percentage points (63% to 50%); while the percentage of grade 3 students at or above the provincial level dropped by seven points (70% to 63%) (Education, Quality and Accountability Office [EQAO], 2016a). Additionally, the latest math results from the 2015 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) show Ontario scored statistically lower than Canada as a jurisdiction, as well as the province of Quebec (EQAO, 2016b). PISA assesses the achievement of 15-year-old students; in Ontario, this involves students in grade 10. When comparing Canada versus the top scoring Singapore, the math results are telling. In Canada, 85.6% students were able to at least employ basic algorithms (level 2 questions), and in Singapore, 92.3% could do the same. As questions became more complex on the PISA assessment, the gap between Canada and Singapore increased. For example, when students were asked questions that required reasoning skills and the ability to communicate their reasoning (level 5 questions), only 15.1% of Canadian students could achieve this level, however, 34.8% of Singapore students could achieve success. These recent findings reveal a current situation of major concern in math performance across Canada and the province of Ontario.

Ontario Ministry of Education documents and provincial targets include the concepts of raising student achievement for all students and closing student achievement gaps. Using district and provincial data, ambitious targets have been proposed for improved numeracy outcomes for elementary students. As part of setting the stage for a renewed vision for Ontario's drive to achieve excellence in education, the ministry acknowledges the challenges observed in the area of math achievement ... "Like many other jurisdictions across Canada and around the world, Ontario has also seen a decline in student performance in mathematics." (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2014, p. 2). The ambitious provincial goal of 75% of students achieving levels three or four on the EQAO is stated clearly in its vision, level three being the provincial standard and level four being the highest level of attainment. In 2016-17, the ministry commenced a renewed math strategy to provide differentiated levels of supports to schools based on student achievement data. For example, this involved professional learning opportunities for educators, as well as math lead teachers in elementary schools. The ministry has also implemented a monitoring approach to identify impact across the province and will share results in the years to come.

The Ontario education system starts with two years of full day kindergarten that immerses students aged four and five in an inquiry and play-based program. Kindergarten educators are encouraged to create learning environments that entice students to build upon their natural curiosities in math through the presentation of intentional provocations. Students then continue with their elementary education through grades 1 - 8, approximately ages 6 - 13. When students enter secondary school in grade 9, they must choose between applied and academic math curriculums. Historically, there has been a tremendous gap in achievement on the grade 9 EQAO math assessment, between students in applied and academic courses. Most recently in 2016, only 45% of students in applied math courses achieved the provincial standard, whereas 83% of those in academic met the same standard. The grade 9 EQAO math assessment is considered low stakes, that is, passing the assessment is not a requirement to graduate secondary school. …

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