EQAO: Low test rates suggest Ontario should review applied courses

The Canadian Press
August 27, 2014 08:15 AM

TORONTO - Ontario's education minister wants to examine how applied math and English are taught in the early high school years after provincial test scores released Wednesday showed persistently low rates for students in those courses.

The Education Quality and Accountability Office results show that more than half of the high school students in applied math in Grade 9 are not meeting the provincial standard. For applied English students tested in Grade 10 the success rate was 50 per cent — a drop of 10 percentage points in the last five years.

The results suggest Ontario should review those courses, the province's education accountability office said Wednesday.

"Applied courses were introduced in secondary schools a number of years ago to offer programming for students with different strengths, interests, needs and learning styles," CEO Bruce Rodrigues said in a statement. "Student achievement in these courses continues to lag. It's worth reviewing the intent of these courses and how they might better support student achievement."

Education Minister Liz Sandals said she "certainly" wants to look at the applied stream, though she noted the high school graduation rate has increased 15 percentage points in the last 10 years, which she credited to a focus in grades 11 and 12 on skill-based programs.

"So we've sort of got this dichotomy that the program that we've got in place at 11 and 12 is doing great things but yet the 9 and 10 window on an applied approach to teaching instead of an academic approach to teaching is not working as well," Sandals said in an interview.

"So there's a larger conversation here, I think, about the whole cluster of Grade 9 and 10 applied courses. Are they pitched properly? Do they have the right curriculum? Are they doing the right things?"

The EQAO results show gains among elementary school students in reading and writing, as well as overall gains in high school literacy results and math success rates among students in the academic courses.

Approximately three-quarters of Grade 3 and Grade 6 students are meeting the provincial standards in reading and writing — rates that have been increasing over the past five years.

But success rates are dropping in elementary school math. The latest results show 67 per cent of Grade 3 students met the standard, down from 71 per cent in 2010, while 54 per cent of Grade 6 students met the standard this year, down from 61 per cent in 2010. The students struggle most when asked to apply math knowledge, for example to problem solving, the EQAO said.

The results also show that 90 per cent of students in the Grade 9 applied math course who did not meet the provincial math standard when they were in Grade 6 still did not meet the standard when tested three years later.

The applied math success rates have been improving over the past five years, but even with a seven-percentage-point increase since the rates were at 40 per cent in 2010, more than half of the students are not meeting the standard.

Among students enrolled in Grade 9 academic math, the success rate was 85 per cent. The overall success rate was approximately the same for the Grade 10 literacy test.

However, among the students in applied English, three-quarters of those who did not meet the standard on the Grade 10 literacy test had also not met the reading standard in Grade 6.

"Ontario's elementary schools do a very good job developing student reading and writing skills," EQAO chairman Brian Desbiens said in a statement. "We're still not seeing the same kind of achievement in math, and aggressive efforts to turn that around must continue at all levels of the education system."

The EQAO will release reports for individual elementary schools and boards on Sept. 17 and the individual high school math and literacy reports are set to be released a week later.


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