Math scores a problem for N.L.: report

James McLeod
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A report by the C.D. Howe institute shows that Newfoundland and Labrador has reason to be concerned about students’ test scores.

The report, based on an analysis of test scores by the Program for International Student Assessment, shows that 15-year-olds are losing ground on science and mathematics.

“Education is much more than training the next generation’s labour force, but the contribution to economic prosperity from a well-run primary and secondary school system is undeniable,” the report says. “There is solid evidence that economic growth in any country is a function of the academic abilities of the country’s workers.”

The report also looked at how well provinces’ educations systems do at separating school from social and family effects. By looking at economic, social and cultural status of students’ families, the report tries to see how well schools do at overcoming the effects of those issues.

“If we accord equal importance to average mathematics score and to gradient slope, the two provinces whose parents should be most concerned are those in Newfoundland and Manitoba,” the report author writes. “Both experienced average mathematics scores well below the Canadian average.”

The same issues that C.D. Howe is looking at were raised in the House of Assembly in late May, when Liberal MHA Dale Kirby brought up in the House of Assembly a couple of weeks ago.

Looking at the Program for International Student Assessment data, Kirby pointed asked Education Minister Darin King what’s being done to turn around math scores.

King acknowledged that there have been changes to the curriculum recently.

“A considerable amount of time and energy has gone into implementing the new mathematics curriculum, and, I might add, a considerable amount of money,” he said. “We recognize, Mr. Speaker, like any change, when you implement any change, there are going to be challenges and there are going to be people who have trouble adjusting.  We are committed to resourcing the system.  We are committed to providing the adequate professional development that teachers require and to supporting them in the classroom to ensure they are doing the best for our students.”

Twitter: TelegramJames

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Manitoba

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Recent comments

  • Nightmare on Smithville!
    June 11, 2014 - 17:11

    Reading the article and the posts below, I am reminded of my last year of high school in the sixties. MUN had hired a new math professor - sight unseen - from another country. When he arrived at the airport, his complete inability to communicate in English became obvious. So bad was it that another MUN professor was summoned to translate. It was quickly apparent to the university that they couldn't plunk him down in a classroom on campus. University students of the sixties would revolt. The solution? Offer his services free of charge to a high school - the idea being that after a year he might learn enough English to take up his assignment at MUN. Gonzaga was a natural fit - being only metres from MUN's doorstep. Well readers can probably guess the rest. Otherwise good students either flunked out that year or did so poorly in math they couldn't get into university or college. Students who were already struggling ....well you do the math! To say these young people were upset would be a gross understatement. Picture yourself sitting there and not being able to understand one word of what was being said for a whole hour every day. No point asking questions - he couldn't understand them and you couldn't understand the answers. There was more than one ugly scene with some frustrated kid getting strapped for his troubles. Those were the days school administrators could foist whatever they wanted on you. Most people have no idea how even one bad year - often the result of a teacher mismatch - can undermine the entire education of a student. Those who survived this fiasco did so because they had other resources on which to fall back - including paid tutors.

  • Melanie
    June 11, 2014 - 16:52

    It is not shocking that our children are scoring low compared to other provinces. I have two children, grade 5 and 6, and they come home from school talking about looking up things on the internet and using I-pads for class activities. They are rarely assigned any homework and hate to pick up a pencil and paper which makes homework an unpleasant time in our house as I try to get them to do some work. Relying on technology is creating academically weak and lazy children without it. I am a firm believer that children need to use paper, pencils, dictionaries and erasers in order to learn. Calculators, spell check and grammar software should not be used in K-12 classrooms. Go back to the basics and master them before adding technology into the mix. I would also like to agree with Jen's comment about 5 strategies for multiplications. One is enough, learn it and master it, anymore then one is just confusing for the children.

  • Laughable
    June 11, 2014 - 16:06

    Why don't parents try spending times with their children, and put away the cell phone and computer.

  • Jen
    June 11, 2014 - 11:06

    Our elementary grade child came home with "5 strategies" to learn simple multiplication. All this had to be mastered in a very short time. Why not teach it the way I learned it in the 70s: learn ONE strategy and learn it WELL. There's too much psychology involved in teaching the rudimentary fundamentals of core subjects these days. Stick to the basics and spend more time on perfecting them!

  • Jack
    June 11, 2014 - 10:36

    I believe the reason why Newfoundland and Labrador's Math score levels are low are due to cuts in high school Mathematics courses. In the past, many provinces had year round Math courses at a high school level. Today, many provinces, notably Nova Scotia and soon Newfoundland and Labrador, now provide only 1/2 year Math courses for all high school Grades. The other problem is that many high school Math teachers don't have backgrounds in Commerce, Science, or any faculty that requires intensive background in Math. Make Math a full year subject at a high school level, and hire teachers with background in that subject, and maybe test scores will improve.

  • Matt Matics
    June 11, 2014 - 09:12

    These results are not surprising, anyone with children in elementary school should know that what is passing for math lately is pathetic. They are spending so much time on things such as representing numbers using blocks and rods etc, that unless parents step in and go the extra mile, the children barely know their multiplication tables. Time for the education system / government to wake up. As we all know, sometimes you just don't get what you pay for and this certainly seems to be a case of money poorly spent.

  • NLFringe
    June 11, 2014 - 07:51

    I went through the NL school system in the 80's, certainly given poor preparation for university or life in general for that matter. Unfortunately our younger generations are not getting the education they require for a long time; Parents need to ensure their child receive the knowledge required either at home or via a good tutor. Invest early and often in your child's education, the school system is certainly not the end all, be all in and of itself; in all probability the bare minimum in most cases.

    • wavy
      June 11, 2014 - 14:50

      Agree 100%. I, too, was a student of the 80's, had terribly ill-equipped, if not outright frustrated/ disinterested, math "teachers" and now have two daughers mired in the same fray that is the high school math curriculum in Newfoundland. Without outside help, math students in NL are doomed. It's like nothing has changed in 30 years. Don't you just love the lip service coming from Minister King on the subject, a former educator no less? All we get is buck-passing and rhetoric and our children are paying the price because of it. Where's the leadership?