Brandon School Division data shows that local Grade 12 students are doing better than the provincial average, although Crocus Plains students are very close. (GRANT HAMILTON/BRANDON SUN)
Providing students with a more focused curriculum is what one local teacher believes is key to improving Manitoba’s low math scores.
"We just need to pare down the essentials that need to be taught first, the things that are absolutely really important for kids to learn," said George Fitton School vice-principal Jaime Lombaert. "I think less outcomes and more focus on the essential outcomes is what students need."
Lombaert, previously a math teacher for 10 years and the Brandon School Division’s numeracy specialist for one year, said improving math scores across the province won’t be an easy fix.
"It takes more than just a few changes to the curriculum," he said.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development released its 2012 Programme for International Student Assesment testing Tuesday.
OECD conducts tests in math, science and reading every three years among 510,000 students aged 15 to represent 28 million students in 65 countries.
Among the 10 provinces tested in Canada, Manitoba fell to the bottom of the list — scoring eighth in math and ninth in reading and science. Only Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador were worse in math and P.E.I came in last in both science and reading.
The report indicates that Manitoba’s scores are continuing to drop every three years, to the point where students are now below the global average in math.
Education Minister James Allum told the Winnipeg Free Press Tuesday that he was "quite disappointed" by Manitoba’s rankings, calling them "quite clearly unacceptable."
"I had expected them to be better," Allum said. "We can do better, and we will do better."
Allum wasn’t the only one disappointed with the results.
"It’s very disappointing because our students have just as much brain potential as students elsewhere," said Brandon School Division Supt. Donna Michaels. "We really need to look into why this is happening and how we can help our students achieve more."
According to BSD’s Grade 12 2012-13 standards test results, Vincent Massey High School seems to be coming out on top when it comes to math scores.
For the past 10 years, Vincent Massey students have scored 20 per cent above the provincial average in pre-calculus. While Crocus Plains Regional Secondary School students, in the same subject, have stayed below the Manitoba average. École secondaire Neelin High School’s scores were close to the provincial average in previous years, but dropped 17 per cent below the Manitoba mean in 2012-13. Crocus Plains and Neelin have lower pass rates than those at the provincial level.
Michaels said the addition of a numeracy specialist to the division four years ago has helped improve math scores in most schools. BSD has one numeracy specialist who works with teachers in classrooms and provides aid when it comes to teaching new strategies.
"We’ve seen improvements in students in the areas of representing numbers, problem-solving," she said. "When a specialist can work closely with teachers, then teachers can have their questions answered about strategies and the meaning of certain things."
Math has been a main focus of the division’s strategic plan for more than 10 years, Michaels said, adding that smaller class sizes and the implementation of changes to the curriculum could be helping struggling students.
Under recent changes to the math curriculum, students are required to memorize their times tables and are learning to multiply and divide on paper and in their heads before picking up a calculator.
Besides changes to the curriculum, Michaels said more teaching strategies aimed at engaging students are essential.
"Teaching of numeracy and mathematics is both a science and an art and it requires a great deal of attention and focus."
OECD also did not list Canada among the countries improving during the years of testing. But on the international stage, Manitoba’s scores are still better than those in the United Kingdom, United States, Russia, Sweden, Spain, Italy and Brazil. Students from Shanghai, China ranked the highest overall in math, reading and science.
» email@example.com, with files from the Winnipeg Free Press
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 5, 2013