Province’s move to halt funding for Ontario teachers’ math qualification raises concerns

TORONTO – Some Ontario educators are raising concerns about the province’s move to halt funding that would allow current teachers to gain math qualifications in the wake of an announcement that new teachers would be required to pass a proficiency test on the subject before entering the classroom.

Earlier this month, the Ontario Teachers’ Federation sent out a news release that said subsidies established by the previous Liberal government for additional qualifications in math “are coming to an end.”

President Diane Dewing said the federation has received the last anticipated influx of government cash to fund the subsidies, which were used by working teachers at all levels who wanted to upgrade their skills.

The Ministry of Education said it has not yet made a funding decision on the subsidies, but has recently announced an initiative that would see aspiring teachers take a math test regardless of the subject they’d focus on in the classroom.

Dewing said the Progressive Conservative government would be making a mistake if it failed to renew the subsidies.

“You have an efficient program which was reaching classroom teachers cancelled, and you have an inefficient program that doesn’t touch classroom teachers for many, many years that has been put in place,” she said. “The only difference between them is that one is a no-cost action that may appease some people who have no understanding of how classrooms work, and the other is, yes it’s expensive, but it’s a direct investment into the classrooms that are operating today.”

Ministry spokeswoman Heather Irwin said the government is “taking the necessary time to review all programs” as it conducts a line-by-line review of expenses.

Mary Reid, an associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, said scrapping the subsidies would take away resources for teachers to continue learning about math.

“It’s such a disappointment,” Reid said of the potential end to the program. “To me (the government) is demonstrating that they do not support teachers.”

Last Thursday, Education Minister Lisa Thompson announced that all aspiring teachers in Ontario will be required to pass a math proficiency test before receiving their licence to teach. The legislation was introduced to address years of declining student scores in math.

It came after the Education Quality and Accountability Office, which administers standardized assessments in the province, said this summer that math test scores among public elementary students have been decreasing over the last five years.

Dewing questioned whether the EQAO test was the most effective way of gauging math performance, saying various national and international assessments of Ontario’s math scores paint a more positive picture.

One of those studies, the Pan-Canadian Assessment Program report, did rank Ontario as having the second-highest math scores in the country. It also found, however, that overall performance had remained stagnant over a six-year period while every other province surveyed saw their scores improve.

Following Thompson’s announcement, NDP education critic Marit Stiles said she was concerned that there hadn’t been any discussion about additional resources for teachers who are trying to teach math.

“I’m concerned that they’re only talking about new teachers,” said Stiles, adding that the government should be bolstering curriculum supports and teacher training instead of imposing a test on teachers.

Reid said she always advises her new graduates to consider taking additional qualifications, especially for math. She said such courses are much more effective than “cramming for one test” because a course allows more immersive “substantial” learning.

Reid said she doesn’t believe the new test will be an accurate reflection of teacher’s math knowledge or that it will be effective in boosting students’ test scores.

“It just doesn’t make sense to me,” said Reid. “Cramming for a test the night before is not the answer.”

– With files from Michelle McQuigge

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