Ontario math scores for 10-year-olds lag behind 27 other countries
Global study finds at least 70 per cent of kids in Grades 4 and 8 in the province are above intermediate benchmarks in math and science
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Grade 4 kids in Ontario are lagging behind counterparts in Kazakhstan, Lithuania and 25 other jurisdictions in math, putting them in the middle of the pack in a 2015 global study of math and science.
The good news is that by Grade 8, they rebounded, with only seven countries — along with the province of Quebec — outperforming Ontario in the 2015 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).
The U.S.-based study, released Tuesday and conducted every four years since 1995, shows achievement is up across the board, including in Ontario, which has seen improved scores over 20 years.
But Grade 4 math emerged as a trouble spot, with Ontario slipping in global rankings. In 2015, more participants in the study finished ahead of Ontario than behind it — 27 versus 22 — with six others statistically the same. That’s worse than in 2011, when 20 of the 57 jurisdictions in the study did better, six were statistically the same and 31 performed worse.
Grade 4 math was the only category where scores actually dropped in 2015, slipping back to 2011 levels. Results for Grade 8 math and both grades in science improved.
While 70 per cent of the province’s students achieved the intermediate benchmark, that’s lower than the three-quarters who reached the benchmark or higher internationally. In Grade 8 math as well as Grades 4 and 8 science, the percentage of Ontario students who exceeded the benchmark were higher than the global numbers.
Some 9,000 Ontario students in classrooms from 150 schools took part in the testing.
Despite the turnaround in Grade 8, the results for 10-year-olds are worrisome, says Mary Reid, professor with the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto.
“It’s a concern because if we didn’t have these gaps, just think about how much further along we’d be by the time they got to Grade 8.
As far as actual scores in all four categories, “we’ve basically flatlined since 1999,” says Reid, but she notes the release next week of widely-watched data from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) will provide additional important indicators of how Ontario students measure up internationally.
That study, conducted every three years, tests 15-year-olds in Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries in science, math and reading.
The TIMSS math results follow a dismal showing from Grade 3 and 6 students in Ontario on the latest standardized math test by the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO), with scores dropping to their lowest levels in more than 15 years. It found only 63 per cent of the younger students met the provincial standard in Grade 3 math, dropping to half in Grade 6.
The troubling trend prompted the province to introduce a $60-million math strategy last spring requiring 60 minutes of math a day for all elementary students and at least one teacher with special training and expertise in math at each school to assist other teachers with strategies.
The TIMSS test found more promising results for Ontario in science, with pupils in both grades performing better against their international counterparts.
Results for the 10-year-olds were statistically the same as 10 other countries and Quebec, with only 15 of the 54 participants doing better, according to an analysis of the data by the EQAO.
In Grade 8, only eight of 46 participants came out ahead of Ontario.
Most jurisdictions involved in TIMSS are countries, but Ontario and Quebec have always participated as individual provinces. Last year’s assessment marks the first time since 1999 that Canada has taken part nationally, but analysts warned those results aren’t reliably representative because they come from only five provinces.
While TIMSS rankings change over the years, top performers remain the same, with the 2015 test highlighting a “pronounced gap” at both grade levels between the top five countries of Singapore, Hong Kong SAR, Republic of Korea, Chinese Taipei and Japan, and the rest.
Previous studies have shown students in those countries are about three years ahead of Ontario in math, Reid said.
Reid also noted gender differences that emerged among younger Ontario students in the 2015 TIMSS, with Grade 4 boys scoring significantly higher than girls, a phenomenon that has showed up in other research, though it was not evident in Grade 8 data.
“There’s a trend here,” she said. “Our girls have the ability to do as well … but they don’t feel confident in math.”