Half of all Grade 6 students in Ontario did not meet the provincial math standard this year, continuing a steady decline in test scores over the past seven years.
Standardized test results for elementary school students released Wednesday by the province's Education Quality and Accountability Office show that while reading results are improving, math results are getting worse.
It echoes some national findings, as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has found that math scores for 15 year olds in Canada have "significantly declined" between 2003 and 2012, though Ontario fares relatively well when compared to other provinces.
Math educators have been engaged in ongoing debates on whether students benefit more from rote learning or a more discovery-based, problem solving approach.
This year in Ontario only 50 per cent of Grade 6 students met the math standard, compared to 58 per cent in 2012. The Grade 3 math results showed a decline too, with 63 per cent of students meeting the provincial standard, compared to 68 per cent in 2012.
In the past 10 years the highest percentage of Grade 6 students meeting the standard was 63 in the 2008-09 school year, while for Grade 3 students it was 71 per cent in 2009-10. The scores have steadily fallen since then.
The EQAO said that 21 per cent of students who met the standard in Grade 3, failed to do so in Grade 6. And just four per cent of students who didn't meet the math standard in Grade 3 were able to achieve it as Grade 6 students.
New math strategy to commence in fall
Education Minister Mitzie Hunter was not available for interviews Wednesday, but released a statement touting a new math strategy that is being introduced this school year.
"(It) will provide improved access to online math resources such as Homework Help or SOS Devoir, dedicated math leads in every elementary school, professional learning for educators and school leaders, and providing students with better supports outside of the school day such as tutoring and summer 'reach-ahead' opportunities," she wrote.
"Improving student success remains our highest priority, and we are committed to ensuring that all students achieve their full potential."
The $60-million plan puts an average of 60 minutes per day of "protected math learning time" in the curriculum for Grades 1 through 8. It also designates up to three "math lead teachers" in all elementary schools and a dedicated math professional development day.
The EQAO's CEO said he is hopeful the new strategy "will start turning these math trends around."
Grade 9 math results were steady compared to 2012, with 83 per cent of those in the academic math course meeting the standard and 45 per cent in the applied course meeting it. The government noted that the applied math scores have significantly improved since 2003, when 21 per cent of the students were meeting the standard.
Meanwhile, students fared better on the reading tests, with 72 per cent of Grade 3 students meeting the standard, up from 66 per cent in 2012, and 81 per cent of Grade 6 students met the standard, up from 75 per cent in 2012.
The percentage of Grade 3 students who met the writing standard ticked slightly lower, to 74 per cent this year from 76 per cent in 2012. This was the first time that 80 per cent of Grade 6 students met the provincial writing standard, which is an improvement from 74 per cent in 2012.