This October, the Progressive Conservative government introduced new legislation that requires prospective teachers to write a compulsory math assessment before being eligible to receive their license to teach in Ontario.
The test would be mandatory and would be administered to students out of teacher’s college, therefore exempting those that already possess a teacher’s license. According to the Ministry of Education, prospective teachers will be required to take this test regardless of their desired subjects of focus.
As part of this new bill titled the “Safe and Supportive Classrooms Act,” the aim of the test is to increase the skills of young students in mathematics. The Minister of Education Lisa Thompson ensures that this test will “provide teachers with the tools they need to do their jobs,” and that the test will help to improve the education system.
“Test scores have been very low for a lot of math students,” states Dr. Maria Wesslen, assistant professor and mathematics faculty advisor in the Mathematical and Computational Sciences department at UTM. “Less than 50% of [students] have passed the standard curriculum [in grade six].”
Data from the Educational Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) provincial assessment from last August reveals that, in agreement with Wesslen’s statement, 49% of grade six students met the provincial standard—a 5% decrease from 54% in the 2013-2014 school year. The data also showed a comparable decrease of 6% in performance in the assessment of grade three students. When comparing the 2013-2014 school year to 2017-2018, the grade three assessment dropped from 67% to 61%.
Although the students themselves are not directly affected by the new math test requirement for future teachers, Wesslen explains that there is “some research stating that there [exists] a link between how confident a math teacher is in mathematics and how well the students do.”
Despite the Ministry of Education’s positive outlook on the new legislation, the Elementary Teacher’s Federation of Ontario criticized the government for instating the bill without first tying previous loose ends concerning many other educational topics, such as looking into adjusting the math curriculum itself.
As the bill was instated rather recently, official information about the exact difficulty and content of the test may only be left to speculation at this time. As the test would not be administered to teachers that are already qualified, some critics voiced concerns about the lack of resources available to current teachers that may struggle with mathematical concepts.
A specific opportunity directed towards aspiring mathematics teachers exists right at UTM. Taught by Wesslen, MAT382: Mathematics for Teachers operates as a potential supportive tool for those who hope to pursue a career in education.
“It’s a 3rd year Math course here in the math department that we offer for students that want to become math teachers,” Wesslen says. “The purpose of the course is geared towards investigating, learning, and discussing mathematics at high school or lower levels and thus [attaining] a much stronger understanding of those topics.” The course selects an assortment of mathematical topics that are covered at many stages of the standard Ontario curriculum for students to dissect and understand at a level appropriate for a teacher.
In the midst of this provincial change, Marit Stiles, an NDP educational critic, states that the government should not be forcing compulsory tests on teachers and should instead be encouraging more effective training for teachers in tandem with a rework of the curriculum in general.