Contentious report raises questions about math success in public schools

Contentious report raises questions about math success in public schools

Parents and school trustees are demanding changes to report cards in hopes of providing a clearer and more realistic assessment of students’ skills.

Public school board officials will debate on Tuesday an administration report on math that concludes 91 per cent of K-12 students within the Calgary Board of Education met “learning expectations as measured by student report cards” in 2016-17, an improvement from the 86.6 per cent of students who met expectations in 2011-12.

But critics say that paints a false picture of a more troubling reality, where students are struggling with basic math and parents don’t even know it.

In fact, 2016-17 student results for grades 6 and 9 provincial achievement tests and Grade 12 diploma exams showed math scores to be consistently lower than other core subjects, with little to no improvement from previous years. And more than 25 per cent of students in grades 6 and 9 failed the exams, unable to achieve the acceptable standard of 50 per cent, according to data released by the CBE last fall.

Sarah Bieber, a mother of four students from grades 1 to 7 in the public system, says parents are given a false perception that their kids are “doing fine” in math because report cards continue to score students on a vague scale of one to four.

To meet learning expectations, students need only present a two or more out of four. Bieber says parents are never sure if that is good enough.

“This report does not reflect what is actually happening at all,” said Bieber, who also is a member of the Kids Come First parent advocacy group.

“I regularly speak to a lot of parents, who are saying their kids are struggling and they feel they have to find other supports for them outside of school because teachers keep telling them everything is fine.”

Bieber relayed the frustrations of one family whose son was achieving grades of two or three out of four in math in junior high, with teachers saying he was a strong student who exceeded grade level expectations.

But now that the same student is in Grade 10, where report cards are scored in percentages, he is achieving a 58 per cent average.

“Now that family is very worried, and they feel like it is too late for their son,” Bieber said.

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Lisa Davis, a newly elected trustee who ran on a platform of changing report cards, said the document coming before the public board Tuesday does not reflect what is happening around math in classrooms and in test results.

“In the last year, I heard from a significant number of parents who believe that report cards don’t provide an accurate picture of where their children are at,” she said.

“When you look at the significant differences between what PAT (provincial achievement tests) data is showing, and what the report card data is showing, it does validate their concerns.”

Althea Adams, a newly elected trustee who also ran on a platform of changing report cards, said she wants to work with other trustees to bring back percentage scores on junior high report cards.

“Kids are coming in to high school with twos or threes out of four in math, and teachers have no idea where to place them. And then they are put in the wrong class, and then several weeks into the course, they have to switch.”

Adams said students and parents deserve to have percentages put back in to report cards for at least the junior high level, so they can get a more accurate reflection of where a student stands.

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