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Math 911

January 18, 2017
 

Discrepancies in High School Math Results

Many CBE students failing Math 30-1 Diploma exams despite passing marks on their report cards. What is the impact for students and their future?

Key points from the Kids Come First report on high school math results at the CBE:

  • Across all Calgary Board of Education (CBE) high schools, an average of 19 percent of students received passing marks on their report card for Math 30-1 but failed the diploma exam.
  • At Lester B. Pearson High School last year, 47 percent of students received a passing grade in Math 30-1 but failed the diploma exam. At Henry Wise Wood High School, the figure was just four percent.
  • When reviewing the spread between the average class mark and the average diploma exam mark, the largest variance for 2015-16 was at James Fowler High School where the average mark for Math 30-1 coursework was 79, but the school average on the diploma exam was just 51.
  • In the CBE high schools with the largest discrepancies between report card marks and diploma exam marks, the spread has increased over the previous year.
  • Kids Come First is calling on Alberta Education to spearhead review of the available data on math report card marks and standardized testing scores to determine why these gaps exist and identify concrete improvements to better support student performance in K-12 math province-wide.

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Executive Summary: Math 911

Data shows dramatically lower math performance at CBE schools vs. CCSD schools. How can we better support students?

Key points from the Kids Come First report on math:

  • There are more students failing than achieving excellence on the Grade 6 Math Provincial Achievement Test (PAT) – a dramatic reversal of results in the course of a few short years.
  • Calgary Board of Education (CBE) schools have an average failure rate over 50% higher than Calgary Catholic School District (CCSD) schools on the Grade 6 and Grade 9 Math PATs. The CBE’s Grade 9 failure rate is also 14% higher than the provincial average.
  • The number of students achieving excellence on the Grade 6 Math PAT has declined 20%.
  • At least $110 million more would reach CBE classrooms each year if CBE administrative spending was in line with that of the CCSD.
  • The Kids Come First Math Action Plan on Math outlines five pragmatic solutions that would provide students with immediate practical support.

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NEW! Read the Kids Come First response to the CBE's statement about math results

In the wake of dramatic changes in the approach to math education in Alberta, data shows that lagging performance on math is widespread -- and getting worse -- amongst the current generation of students in Alberta. Test results show poor performance and post-secondary educators are commenting on incoming students’ difficulty completing even basic math functions. This underachievement in math has a long-term detrimental effect on our children. It means too many children are being precluded – at a young age - from the explosive growth of STEAM careers (science, technology, engineering, arts and math), which includes both professional careers and the majority of trades.

CBE math results declining, CCSD outperforming

The effects of the adoption of inquiry-math are particularly striking in Calgary Board of Education (CBE) schools, where data shows a dramatic increase in children failing math from grade 6 to grade 12. Math scores have fallen rapidly at CBE and are now significantly lower than those of the Calgary Catholic School District (CCSD). Some key statistics paint a startling picture of poor math performance and a concerning downward trend:

  • There are more students failing than achieving excellence on the Grade 6 Math Provincial Achievement Test (PAT) – a dramatic reversal of fortune under the leadership of current CBE trustees.
  • CBE schools have an average failure rate over 50% higher than CCSD schools on the Grade 6 and Grade 9 Math PATs. The CBE’s Grade 9 failure rate is also 14% higher than the provincial average.

Statistics for CBE schools in NE Calgary are particularly bleak, raising questions about why no alarm bells have sounded at the CBE and why no action has been taken to address the issue. While some may deny that there is an issue with math performance at all, arguing that standardized tests are inherently unfair for students from less advantaged socioeconomic groups, this position is refuted by the much higher performance among CCSD in the same geographic area. For example, 93% of CBE schools in NE Calgary are below the grade 6 math provincial average. This is twice the rate for CCSD schools in the same geographic area. It should be noted that a passing mark on the exam was between 38% and 46% depending on the year.

Also of concern:
  • The number of children achieving excellence in grade 6 math has declined 20% in the last 4 years.
  • 100% of CBE schools in NE Calgary are below the grade 9 math provincial average.

Poor performance on PATs is not the only data raising concern about math. There is also a large disparity of grade inflation at CBE high schools, meaning that the number of students passing math classes but failing diploma exams is considerable, particularly in NE Calgary. This affects a student’s children’s ability to graduate high school on time and enter their post-secondary program of choice.

Pinpointing causes

The primary underlying cause of the CBE’s poor math results lies in its strong shift to inquiry-based math. The CCSD has not pursued implementation of inquiry-based math as aggressively. Interestingly, at the same time, the CBE appears to have ignored the dramatic success of its own Traditional Learning Centre (TLC) program, which reduces the math failure rate by almost two thirds. The TLC program is also a bright spot in NE Calgary.

If socioeconomic factors were the reason behind poor performance in NE Calgary, CCSD schools and Almadina Charter School (with 100% English Language Learners) would show similar results. Yet results at CCSD schools in NE Calgary are much better than CBE schools and Almadina students significantly outperform the Provincial average.

To compound the issue, the CBE’s high administrative spending takes needed funds out of the classroom where resources have the most impact. At least $110 million more would reach CBE classrooms each year if CBE administrative spending was in line with that of the CCSD. Moving these funds back into the classroom and freeing up funds for more teachers, aides and specialized help would have an immediate positive impact on CBE students and teachers.

Lack of action -- and denial

CBE Trustees and leadership have minimized the scope of the problem instead of addressing it, and have failed to adequately monitor the slide in performance. Despite the clear evidence, CBE Trustees voted against a motion in June 2016 that would have recognized grade 6 math performance as a problem. Their annual report to parents regarding Provincial Achievement Test results includes a single sentence about math.

While Minister of Education David Eggen has acknowledged there are serious problems in math, his December 2016 announcement of a provincial initiative on math fails to address the root problem, make no progress in providing immediate solutions and will take too long to make a difference for today’s students.


Kids Come First’s Action Plan on Math

There is much talk in Alberta about the need to diversify our economy, and STEAM careers need to be a part of that. How will Alberta replace the 100,000 high paying jobs lost in this current recession – the worst in decades? If we want to provide real opportunities for our children in this area we need to get moving now on real and immediate solutions.

Kids Come First remains optimistic for the future and firm in its conviction that bringing together the right people and talents along with clear, practical solutions, we can overcome these challenges and give the children of Alberta the skills they need to realize success in a modern and fast-paced world. Kids Come First has developed a five point plan that aims to bring immediate solutions by getting needed resources into the hands of students this spring and providing independent oversight of progress to fix this situation.

  1. Drive a dedicated fundraising campaign to give struggling students free JUMP Math workbooks.
  2. Call on the Government of Alberta and CBE to set aside $1 million immediately to fund after school tutoring for children at underperforming schools – beginning March 1, 2017.
  3. Empower parents to help their kids by developing a list of 30 questions for each grade children should be able to complete (something CBE has twice refused to do when asked by parent groups).
  4. Establish a joint task force to monitor progress at schools in NE Calgary for the next three years.
  5. Publish multi-year PAT results on the CBE website so that parents and the public can see the trendline, enabling parents to have easy access to this much-needed information. Kids Come First has published this information on our Test Scores page.
A note on the data: Data presented for math results are for students writing, which provides the most accurate snapshot of results. An in-depth explanation of why this is the most useful metric can be found on CBE Trustee Trina Hurdman’s website.