Why testing teachers won't likely solve Ontario's math problems: expert
Teachers will need a score of 70 per cent or better to pass their math test
Ontario's standardized test scores for math continue to decline, according to the latest results released in August.
Vanessa Vakharia, math tutor and founder and CEO of The Math Guru, spoke with the CBC's Craig Norris about some of the problems she sees with the province's new plan. You can read an abridged and edited version of the interview or listen to the full audio interview by hitting the play button above.
Vanessa Vakharia, math tutor, founder and CEO of The Math Guru
How would you say the skills of the teacher affect the math skills of the student?
It's honestly one of the biggest factors. I feel like any human can kind of relate to that idea that you loved one of your school subjects because you have an awesome teacher or you hated the school subject because you didn't. So, there is kind of that general idea. But with math what's even more interesting, I think, is a lot of research has shown that teacher anxiety is one of the greatest things that gets passed on to a student. So, if the teacher's feeling really anxious about math, the kids feel that. They absorb that.
How will this new teacher testing work?
I honestly have as much information as all of us do, which isn't that much. So, we know that 30 per cent of the tests will have to do with how to teach math. So, teachers aren't just being tested on math concepts but how to teach those concepts. We know that teachers need to get a 70 in order to pass and we know that it's all new teachers but we don't know is that a multiple choice test? Who knows? We don't know what math is on the test.
What percentage of teachers do you think would be able to pass that kind of test?
They don't know what's on the test but I think it would probably be pretty stressful for a current teacher to think their job was on the line if they didn't pass this test that they hadn't had a chance to study.
What's the value then if the teachers who are out there teaching right now aren't required to do it?
Some teaching programs, like Lakehead University for instance, they have their own math competency exams built into their teaching degree. So does that make this test redundant?
I think that's a really interesting point because, to me, why haven't we been emphasizing this all along? I do find it interesting that some teacher training programs have a more rigorous approach to the math that their teachers leave with. And that's why it's interesting to say OK we're just going to have an Ontario wide test but I really wonder how it's going to be carried out because, again, there are issues with standardized testing and there are issues with teaching to a test.
The key things should be that in teacher training programs teachers are taught the math they need. That's what I would hope. And, I guess that's simply not happening now and there needs to be some solution. Whether this is the right solution, I'm not sure, but it is definitely important to be examining the way teachers are trained to make sure that they leave feeling prepared and that they are getting the support they need.
I also think that it's super important is for everyone out there to realize there is not one solution to the problem. Kids math scores are declining. There's an increase in math anxiety. There's a whole range of things going on inside and outside the classroom that weren't happening decades ago. And, in order to get kids feeling better and more confident and competent with that we need a lot of things. Helping teachers out is one of those things. But I worry that it's kind of a little bit of a band-aid solution to a larger systemic problem of what's going on in schools. What's happening with the curriculum and kind of deeper level things that would take longer to fix.