Of all the school subjects that should produce consistent grades, mathematics has to be chief among them. There’s little wiggle room when students are exploring the certainty of numbers and the myriad connections they share.
That’s why the suspicion of grade inflation — giving students a higher mark than they deserve based on their knowledge of the curriculum — is worrying. The high marks awarded for classroom work mask a lack of mastery, which is revealed when students sit for their Math 30-1 diploma exams.
“There is a continual refusal to acknowledge the serious problem with math, and it means that kids will continue to be turned away from post-secondary schools and a whole range of career options,” says Lisa Davis of Kids Come First.
“Parents are looking for an accurate analysis of the problem, and a solution.”
It’s likely that problems with math start early on in school life. For example, only 14 per cent of Alberta Grade 6 math students achieved excellence in the standardized test last year, a drop from 17.8 per cent six years ago.
Many careers demand proficiency at math, and even in pursuits where a comprehensive knowledge of numbers isn’t required, such skills are one of the foundations of a successful, prosperous society.
Davis’s group analyzed Alberta Education and Calgary Board of Education data and discovered students at the city’s 19 public high schools averaged lower scores on their Math 30-1 diploma exams than their final classroom grade. At five of those schools, more than 30 per cent of students who passed the Math 30-1 course ended up failing the diploma exam written at the end of the semester.
Lester B. Pearson High School had the highest failure rate, with up to 47 per cent of students failing the Math 30-1 diploma exam after passing the course. Average grades translated to 74 in the course, and 52 on the exam.
The problem hasn’t been lost on the CBE. And nor should it. What’s the point of leading students and their families to believe the young people are successfully learning the curriculum, only to discover they aren’t? Once the exam has been written, any opportunity for improvement has been lost, short of repeating the course.
The school district is said to be developing a new math strategy, and teachers are being offered professional development and training opportunities through the University of Calgary.
Improvements that mesh successful classroom marks with successful exam performance can’t come soon enough. The gap reveals a troubling disconnect between learning that’s taking place in schools and the ability students should be able to demonstrate on a standardized exam. It doesn’t add up.