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Year After Year "Discovery" Math Fails to Educate Students Across Canada
Summer is over and time to get reacquainted with friends as everyone returns to school and advances on to the next grade. The start of a new school year is always filled with a sense of curiosity about what the new courses will be like, who will be the teachers guiding classes through the discovery of new knowledge and not surprisingly, there is a new Math Course found on everyone’s timetable.
It is a certainty that topics from previous math courses will be revisited in this year’s math class. Previous concepts will be further explored and developed in greater depth broadening student awareness of the intricate association and relationship of certain topic areas existing in the world of mathematics. Some concepts will be briefly reviewed as these are to be applied to new areas of study illustrating the cumulative nature of mathematics. Keeping pace and being able to demonstrate mastery over concepts being explored in each math class is of paramount importance as new topic areas are encountered in this year’s math course. Homework and devotion of extra time to reinforce understanding of mathematical concepts is required to prevent ‘gaps’ from forming in the learning process. Lack of understanding of one topic area can lead to confusion and frustration when attempting to learn related concepts being covered in class. A student not knowing numerous topic areas examined in previous math courses is at a distinct disadvantage when commencing their next math course at the start of any successive academic year. Visit the Alberta Government Programs of Study website to view the math syllabus for grades 1 to 12 – look for reoccurring concepts appearing from year to year; http://www.learnalberta.ca/ProgramsOfStudy.aspx?lang=en&posLang=en&Core=Mathematics or http://www.learnalberta.ca/ProgramOfStudy.aspx?ProgramId=26061#
Clearly, addressing concerns in mathematics as soon as possible is the course of action needed when difficulties arise. At the Math Learning Centre, taking a No Risk Assessment will identify gaps in the understanding of mathematical concepts at each specific grade. Analyzing and reviewing the results of the assessment followed by preparation of an Individualized Learning Plan designed to address areas of concern prepares the child for the math topics currently being covered in the school math class and for future topics. It is imperative students have the opportunity to catch up, keep up and get ahead in mathematics. Not understanding what is taking place in the math class is like watching a foreign film without subtitles. The individual sort of knows what is happening but is not exactly sure what the film is all about, what is being said, where everything is leading to and why certain things are happening. How long would a student remain interested persevering to understand what is taking place in the foreign film or their math class under these conditions? Frustration, anxiety, embarrassment and feeling lost during math class can erode a student’s confidence and performance in their entire academic program. This need not be the case.
Some students may begin contemplating plans to continue their education after graduating from high school. Math will play an important role in the application process to some post secondary institutions pertaining to certain programs of study:
- University of Calgary – High School Math Courses specified are Mathematics 30-1, Mathematics 30-2 and Mathematics 31 in the faculties of Arts, Education, Science, Engineering, Kinesiology, Medicine, Nursing and Business. A minimum grade of 70 per cent in Alberta Mathematics 30-1 is the prerequisite for first year math courses. Source: http://www.ucalgary.ca/pubs/calendar/current/a-5-1-2.html
- SAIT - Completion of the following courses or equivalents: At least 50% in Math 30-1 or Pure Math 30, or at least 60% in Math 30-2 or Applied Math 30, AND, At least 55% in English Language Arts 30-1, or at least 60% in English Language Arts 30-2. Source: http://www.sait.ca/programs-and-courses/full-time-studies/diplomas/information-technology-course-overview/admission-and-selection.php
- Mount Royal University – Group “A” (5 credits); English Arts 30 – 1, Mathematics 30 – 1 (or Mathematics 30 -2 if accepted by the program), Mathematics 31, . . . Note: you cannot use two courses from the same subject area for the purpose of admission, with the exception of Mathematics 30-1 or 30-2 and Mathematics 31. To be eligible for admission, you must present a minimum admission average calculated on your five appropriate Grade 12 subjects used for admission to your program. Most programs also require a minimum grade in specific courses. Source: http://www.mtroyal.ca/Admission/AdmissionRequirements/group_abc.htm
Stated ‘minimum’ grade requirements may not be sufficient to cope with the level of course work demanded at post secondary institutions. The world of post secondary education is completely different than high school - ask anyone who has been there.
Visit Mathnasium of SW Calgary to see what we can do for your child!
Michael and Cathy
Grade 4 math illiteracy rate has doubled in Alberta, international test shows
BY DAVID STAPLES (Calgary Sun Newspaper)
FIRST POSTED: THURSDAY, JUNE 15, 2017 08:24 PM MDT | UPDATED: FRIDAY, JUNE 16, 2017 07:08 AM MDT
Math education in Alberta has reached a new low, with the rate of math illiteracy doubling for Grade 4 students since 2011. The latest results are part of a trend that has seen Alberta students sinking lower on international math tests for two decades.
In 1995, nine per cent of Grade Four students in Alberta ranked at the top level for math, meaning could apply math to relatively complex problems and explain their reasoning. But on the just-released 2015 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), only 2.4 per cent of Grade Four students hit that mark.
The number of Alberta students in the lowest category indicating math illiteracy, students who lack even a basic knowledge of math, has exploded. It went from six per cent of Grade 4 students in the 2011 TIMSS to 13.2 per cent in 2015.
More than 4,662 students at 154 Alberta schools took the 2015 TIMSS, which was administered in 50 countries worldwide at the Grade 4 level. Alberta used to score average for a developed country in math education. Among Canadian provinces in 1995, it was well ahead of Ontario but behind Quebec. It now ranks in the same category as countries such as Turkey, Georgia and Chile. It is significantly behind both Ontario and Quebec and not remotely close to top nations, such as Singapore, Japan, Northern Ireland and Russia.
Math professors blame the failing results on the pervasive influence of a new style of teaching math, known as constructivism or discovery math, which has been embraced by university education professors and Alberta Education math curriculum consultants.
Education Minister David Eggen agrees with critique from these math professors that our students' problems in math are related to a move to discovery math: "I think their analysis is quite sound historically."
Eggen said the key to improving the scores is the coming rewrite of the K-12 math curriculum: "We are going to focus like a laser on improving math outcomes."
With more careers than ever requiring math, parents say grade inflation in that subject is putting public school students at a huge disadvantage when they write final exams and apply for post-secondary programs. The gap in grades — which sees some schools averaging scores as low as 52 in the Math 30-1 diploma exam versus in-class grades as high as 74 for the 2015-16 school year — are also reflective of larger math problems in the public system, says the founder of a local parent group. “There is a continual refusal to acknowledge the serious problem with math, and it means that kids will continue to be turned away from post-secondary schools and a whole range of career options,” said Lisa Davis, of Kids Come First. “Parents are looking for an accurate analysis of the problem and a solution.”
According to data that Kids Come First analyzed and retrieved from Alberta Education and the Calgary Board of Education, up to 19 public high schools averaged lower scores on their Math 30-1 diploma exams than their final class grade. At five of those schools, more than 30 per cent of those students who passed the Math 30-1 course ended up failing the diploma exam written at the end of the semester. Lester B. Pearson High School showed the highest failure rate, with up to 47 per cent of students failing the Math 30-1 diploma after passing the course. Average grades translated to 74 in the course, and 52 on the exam. Close behind is Forest Lawn High School where 43 per cent of students failed the final exam after passing the course. Average grades translated to 74 in the course and 57 on the exam. And at James Fowler High School, where 42 per cent of Math 30-1 students failed the final after passing the course, average final grades were as high as 79, while final exam grades were as low as 51.
The gap even exists province-wide, where provincial data shows that in 2016, 96 per cent of students were given a passing grade in Math 30-1 by their teachers, but only 71 per cent of students who took the Math 30-1 diploma exam passed the test — a gap of 25 percentage points. Parents argue the gap between class grades and test results is clear indicator of math problems that begin early in elementary and manifest through junior and high school because teachers are not making math a priority, they’re not testing kids enough and they’re not delivering the curriculum properly.
Dr. Kelly Guggisberg, a pathology specialist who was always strong in math at school, says her kids did not receive the support and math practice they needed and deserved, even in their earliest grades in the public school system. “My son would come home and tell me he didn’t even do math that day, and that happened a lot,” she said. “As early as Grade 2, he told me he wasn’t good at math. He was already lacking that confidence.” But after networking at her school, Guggisberg discovered most of the children who were strong in math were seeing tutors regularly. And once she hired a private tutor, her son’s math strengths soared. “Why does it have to be this way, that you have to hire a tutor just to get the basic skills in early grades? “It was never like this when I was in school. There is no accountability, no repetition.”
Jeannie Everett, superintendent of learning for the Calgary Board of Education, says the district is now developing a new math strategy, surveying for best practices from all stakeholders through a new online tool called Thoughtexchange. Teachers are also being offered professional development and new math training opportunities through the University of Calgary later this month, Everett added. “We’re looking at many ways to see how we can support math learning better than we already are.” Everett adds that while some schools may be experiencing large gaps between school grades and final exam scores, she stressed that standardized tests are not always an accurate indication of skill level.
Last year’s standardized test scores showed students struggling in math across the board. Only 14 per cent of Grade 6 students across Alberta achieved the standard of excellence, a drop from the 17.8 per cent that achieved the same standard six years ago. In Grade 9, math results were also unimpressive, with only 17.5 per cent of students achieving excellence, showing no significant improvement from 2010 when that number was 17.3. In a new problem-solving exam, Grade 9 students still struggled, with only 13 per cent achieving a standard of excellence, another drop from the 15.1 per cent of students who achieved that in 2009 when the test was first introduced.
CBE students saw an even more significant decline in results on that exam, dropping from 12 per cent achieving excellence in 2009 to only 6.3 in 2016. For Alberta students in Grade 12, diploma exam results for Math 30-1, the course required for university entrance into business, engineering and science, scores also declined. Provincewide, only 25.9 per cent of students achieved a standard of excellence in 2016, a drop from the 27.9 per cent that achieved that same standard in 2014.
Math Crisis in Calgary Schools - Report 911, February 2017 (Kids Come First)
Full article can be found at: https://kidscomefirst.ca/2017/01/18/math-scores-in-ne-calgary/
Report: Math 911
Data shows poor math performance at CBE schools vs. CCSD schools. How can we better support students?
The current math landscape In the wake of dramatic changes in the approach to math education in Alberta, data shows that lagging performance on math is widespread -- and getting worse -- amongst the current generation of students in Alberta. Test results show poor performance and post-secondary educators are commenting on incoming students’ difficulty completing even basic math functions.
The effects of the adoption of inquiry-math are particularly striking in Calgary Board of Education (CBE) schools, where data shows a dramatic increase in children failing math from grade 6 to grade 12. Math scores have fallen rapidly at CBE and are now significantly lower than those of the Calgary Catholic School District (CCSD). In the last four years, there are more students failing math than achieving excellence in grade 6 – a dramatic reversal. In the northeast, CBE’s underperformance relative to the CCSD is significant, representing a social justice issue that requires immediate solutions and resources.
Available data paints a startling picture of poor math performance and a concerning downward trend (1):
● CBE schools have a failure rate over 50% higher than the CCSD for grades 6 and 9.
● The CBE grade 9 failure rate is 14% higher than the provincial average.
● 93% of CBE schools in Calgary’s northeast are below the Grade 6 math provincial average. This is double the rate for CCSD schools in the same geographic area.
● 100% of CBE schools in Calgary’s northeast are below the provincial average in Grade 9 math.
● There has been a 20% decline in the number of children achieving excellence in grade 6 math.
(1) A note on the data: Data presented for math results are for students writing, which provides the most accurate snapshot of results. An in-depth explanation of why this is the most useful metric can be found on CBE Trustee Trina Hurdman’s website: http://www.trinahurdman.ca/thoughts-on-comparing-pat-results-to-the-province/
Impact on students: today and in the future
Unless the downward slide in math performance is addressed immediately, many students will continue to fall far behind their peers. Math education is cumulative -- as children fall further behind it becomes more difficult to catch up – which is why the failure rate increases dramatically from 21% in grade 6 to 56% in grade 12 (including those failing Math 30-1 and 30-2 and those not writing).
Low math competency negatively impacts student access to postsecondary programs. The recent Mathematics Review submitted to the Premier shows that 81% of university programs in Calgary require a math prerequisite as well as 38% of college programs. Current (2) results mean that many students will unnecessarily be precluded from many enriching career pathways, including STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) careers. With the increased importance placed on diversifying Alberta’s economy, this issue has serious long-term consequences.
The considerable spike in private tutoring indicates that parents are also well aware of these math performance issues and are turning to private tutoring to address gaps in their own child’s math learning (3). However, many families cannot afford private tutoring and while it goes a long way to support individual students, it may mask the systemic problem.
Shift to inquiry-based math
There are three primary causes of the downward trend in math performance. The first is the shift to inquiry-based math. The CBE has been an aggressive adopter of inquiry-based math (sometimes referred to as discovery math) which data shows has had a major impact on math results. The CCSD has not focused on inquiry-based math and has not faced the same dismal math scores.
The CBE’s Traditional Learning Centre (TLC) programs greatly outperform the average school, and is the bright spot in schools in Calgary’s northeast. This comes as no surprise to Stuart Wachowicz, former Director of Curriculum Development for Edmonton Public Schools and developer of the Cogito program in Edmonton. He categorically rejects demographics as the reason for poor math performance, saying: “When we developed the Cogito program, which the CBE used as a model for its TLC program, one of the exciting results was that children from a low income, high English as a Second Language background were actually outperforming their counterparts from wealthier areas. There is no reason for these children not to excel at the same rate as their counterparts, nor should we do them the disservice to lower our expectations for them.”
(2) Mathematics Review - Report to Premier and Minister, December 2016, Mathematics Curriculum Review
If socioeconomic factors were the reason behind poor performance in northeast Calgary, we would see these results mirrored at CCSD schools and at Almadina Charter School. Yet with 100% English Language Learners, Almadina significantly outperforms both the CBE and the Provincial average.
High administrative costs take funds out of the classroom
The CBE is operating inefficiently and that means less money in the classroom where it is needed most. The CBE previously publicly confirmed 21-25% of revenue is directed toward administration and school support costs. In comparison, the Catholic School Board spends 8.8%. Changing reporting at the CBE makes it difficult to accurately compare financials from year to year. However, even with the most recent update, it appears that at least $110 million
would flow to the classrooms if the CBE adopted the CCSD’s commitment to lower overhead (4). More funds in the classroom would free up funds for initiatives at the classroom and school-level that would have a positive impact on math performance (4).
(4) For more on high administrative spending, see Kids Come First’s report Funding the Front Lines:
https://www.metronews.ca/news/calgary/2016/10/05/cbe-plans-ram-review-in-2-years-capsc-wants-action-sooner.html and http://www.metronews.ca/news/calgary/2015/09/21/parent-group-asks-government-to-review-cbe-school-funding.html
Acknowledging the problem
Despite the data clearly showing the downward trend in math performance, the CBE has generally minimized the scope of the problem. In June 2016, CBE Trustee Trina Hurdman brought forward a motion to recognize the concern regarding grade 6 math scores but the motion was voted down. Dissenters included Trustee Pamela King and Trustee Lynn Ferguson, both Trustees representing the majority of Calgary’s northeast where students are struggling most. When the current group of Trustees was elected, more students were achieving excellence than failing. Today the opposite is true and the current Board of Trustees has overseen the largest drop in student achievement in math in recent memory. In October 2016, the CBE press release regarding PAT results makes only a brief reference to math results, noting vaguely: “We have noted some improvements in math, and we want to support further improvement over time.” (5). The CBE has recently committed to undertaking a consultation on math with all stakeholders. Yet his underperformance at CBE has been going on for a number of years; the northeast data in particular has not changed in at least the last two years. Given the length of time math has been an issue, it is reasonable to expect that the CBE would be at the point of implementing concrete solutions rather than embarking on a lengthy and costly consultation process.
Addressing math at the Provincial level
In 2015, Education Minister David Eggen clearly acknowledged that there is a province-wide
problem with math (6). In December 2016, he announced a $2 million provincial initiative on math that includes adding back the written portion of the high school diploma exam in math, banning calculators from part of the Grade 9 math PAT and and offering a $2,000 bursary for teachers to acquire additional training (7). Although these are welcome baby steps, they fall short of making immediate and concrete changes that will have a demonstrable positive impact on students. With regard to the bursary program, few details have been released and there appears to be no mechanism in place -- or even guidance provided -- to ensure that these funds are spent on professional development that will support improved math results.
Six months into the process, the Province has not released the names of the participants involved in the major curriculum overhaul. Given that Minister Eggen has advised that this curriculum will be transformative, parents and the public deserve to know who is involved and how the groups are structured. Months into the curriculum redesign, the public does not have access to this information. Given the far-reaching impact of education on students and on society as a whole, these issues deserve the highest level of transparency. Also troubling is Minister Eggen’s refusal to meet with key independent parental math advocates. Dr. Tran Davies has collected over 20,000 signatures on a petition to improve math in Alberta and sought a meeting with Minister Eggen to discuss solutions. In July 2016, the Minister’s office sent a letter advising they would no longer even respond to her inquiries. Province-wide, there is a dramatic increase in the math failure rate between grades 6 and 12. It is important that children have as many options open as possible as they decide their future beyond grade 12, thus emphasizing the importance of a strong foundation being laid by grade 6.
Kids Come First’s Action Plan on Math
Kids Come First remains optimistic for the future and firm in its conviction that bringing together the right people and talents along with clear, practical solutions, we can overcome these challenges and give the children of Alberta the skills they need to realize success in a modern and fast-paced world. Kids Come First has developed a five point plan that aims to bring immediate solutions by getting needed resources into the hands of students this spring and providing independent oversight of progress to fix this situation.
Looking to the Future
Underachievement in math has a detrimental effect on our children. It means too many children are being precluded from the explosive growth of STEAM careers (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math). Even when they do get into these fields, they are struggling. Dr. John Bowman, PhD (Princeton), a mathematics professor at the University of Alberta’s Engineering department, advises that the program has seen a deterioration of skills over the past several years at the university level. Even those students who are achieving high marks (85%+) to get into engineering are struggling with basic functions. There is much talk in Alberta about the need to diversify our economy and STEAM careers should be a big part of that. How will Alberta replace the 100,000 high paying jobs lost in this current recession – the worst in decades? STEAM opportunities are significant and growing, but only if our students have the necessary background.
A video to share which you may find interesting!