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