We must do better! – but how?

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“Canadian students spend more time in math class than other countries, but have lower test scores” says Tamsin McMahon in an article on education in the Jan. 20 issue of Maclean’s magazine titled “Something doesn’t add up.”

This story written by McMahon is intriguing because it highlights a number of issues. First, it pointed out that the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development released their latest math test results which showed Canada dropping to 13th place in math. At the same time that results are getting worse, the amount of time spent on math has been increasing. The OECD reports that students in Canada spend more time in classrooms learning math than any other country in the Western World. In Canada we also have the longest periods per subject which average 75 minutes. It is important to note that Finland, one of the countries ahead of Canada in math test scores, spends 50 per cent less time on math than Canadian children. Two other countries performing better than Canada, Japan and the Netherlands, also spend significantly less time on math than Canada.

A little closer to home the results for math assessments are no better. The Chignecto Central Regional School Board test results indicate that only 50 per cent of our Grade 8 children met the minimum level of grade expectations or higher. This means that one out of every two children are failing to meet the minimum expectation for math in Grade 8. The provincial pass rate of 54 per cent is not much better. Across the province 46 per cent or almost one out of two children are failing. Is it any wonder that Nova Scotia does so poorly when our children write the OECD tests for mathematics?

So what do we have to do to improve our math scores in CCRSB? The Nova Scotia Department of Education and Early Childhood Development has decided to adopt the Western and Northern Canadian Protocol (WNCP) Common Curriculum Framework for Mathematics.

“The Common Curriculum Framework was developed by the seven Canadian western and northern ministries of education (British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Yukon Territory, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut) in collaboration with teachers, administrators, parents, business representatives, post-secondary educators and others” as reported in a N.S. Public Schools Branch Information Item.

The WNCP framework for Math reduces the number of topics that children are exposed to. As well, the students will go much deeper into the skill being learned. The hope is that students will get a greater understanding of these mathematics concepts. One can be skeptical that this will improve our children’s math skills; however, we have great teachers and their desire to have students improve should prove beneficial. Only time will tell and you can be sure that many are watching.

It is interesting to note that McMahon quotes OECD Deputy Director of Education, Andrew Schleicher, on several proven steps that increase student performance. These are “investing in teacher professional development, more effective curricula, more individualized support for students and safer and more orderly schools.” Our math curriculum has been changed, next we should ensure that our teachers get plenty of professional development and give as much individualized support to students as necessary. In this 21st  century, mathematics is an important skill for everyone.


An education advocate, Ron Marks has been an outspoken member of local and regional school boards and a former Stellarton mayor. His column runs weekly.

Organizations: OECD, Chignecto Central Regional School Board, Organization for Economic Co Department of Education N.S. Public Schools Branch Information Item

Geographic location: Canada, Nova Scotia, Finland Japan Netherlands British Columbia Alberta Saskatchewan Manitoba Yukon Territory Northwest Territories Nunavut Stellarton

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Recent comments

  • Ken MacPherson
    March 02, 2014 - 22:35

    Why is Jump Math so rarely talked about in NS? I think we have too many uni. Education departments. Too much "groupthink". We always seem to be the last to try something else and just accept the status quo. It's not working. We're crippling our children.

  • Former PC Student
    February 21, 2014 - 05:54

    Stop letting kids off easy and make them accountable. Don't let them pass in assignments weeks late and still get credit for them. If they deserve to fail then fail them. Stop trying to make everything seem good to them when they are not. Make the kids put in some work instead of pumping their tires and saying it's ok they don't pay attention or do their work. If you let them off easy there then what is our work force going to become?