Toronto

Mandatory math tests for new teachers don't add up, critics say

A University of Toronto education researcher is raising concerns about requiring new teachers to pass a math test, saying they could dissuade people from diverse backgrounds from entering education and worsen the current shortage of French teachers.

Testing to begin for those who apply to Ontario College of Teachers on or after March 31, 2020

Mary Reid, assistant professor at University of Toronto's Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, worries math tests for all new teachers could lead to fewer visible minorities entering the profession. (Gary Beechey)

A University of Toronto education researcher is raising concerns about requiring new teachers to pass a math test, saying they could dissuade people from diverse backgrounds from even entering education and also worsen the current shortage of French teachers.

"I'm not sure if having to solve quadratic equations is actually going to help you as a drama teacher," said Mary Reid, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto's Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE).

The required testing is set to begin for incoming teachers who apply to the Ontario College of Teachers on or after March 31, 2020. The Ontario government is pitching it as part of the solution to improve low student math results.

"We cannot accept for two consecutive years, Grade 6 students failing the provincial average," Education Minister Stephen Lecce told reporters on Tuesday, citing recent standardized Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) scores. The same office will develop the standardized test for teachers.

Ontario Minister of Education Stephen Lecce hopes math tests for new teachers, as well as more professional development for current teachers, will help boost student math scores. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

Lecce said he doesn't fault teachers, instead slamming the previous Liberal government and its switch to a discovery math curriculum. 

"There's a reason why our young kids today cannot do basic math," Lecce said.

He said teachers will also receive more professional development to improve their math teaching skills, something Reid said is important.

But based on research Reid has seen out of the United States, she's not convinced teacher math tests will solve the lower student test scores, saying there doesn't seem to be a connection between teachers passing this type of test and student achievement.

She also points to U.S. research that finds black and Latino teaching candidates have higher failure rates when it comes to math skills, which researchers associate with socioeconomics and systemic discrimination in the school system.

"We want to diversify the teacher population and not go the other way," Reid said.

She also worries what this could do to the numbers of French teachers, an area where there's already a shortage.

"It's going to exacerbate that shortage," Reid predicted, once again pointing to US data. "There's huge teacher shortages in the States."

Parents group supports math tests

But one local parents group dedicated to improving results for marginalized students says that given math test scores, something needs to change.

"We have to make an improvement somewhere," said Theresa Pastore, founder and executive director of Parents Engaged in Education.

She's not convinced by the reasoning from the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO), which warned the testing will mean kindergarten teachers will have to understand calculus

"You go through school to become a teacher, Pastore said. "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."

She said perhaps there should be two separate tests: one for secondary school teachers and one for elementary.

The Ontario NDP attacked the new testing measure, criticizing a government that has plans to cut 3,475 teaching positions over its four year mandate, according to a memo by the Ministry of Education.

"If we want to improve math success for our students, don't take away their teachers," said NDP education critic Marit Stiles in a news release.

"Kids who are struggling to learn math need more support in the classroom, not less."

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