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Patrick LashmarIn spite of various Ministry and Board initiatives, school improvement plans, and the best efforts of teachers, too many students are struggling with EQAO Math assessments year after year.

Many teachers have just endured an especially frustrating and stressful round of Grade 3 and Grade 6 EQAO testing - that annual event that can be stressful for teachers and demoralizing for many students. Teachers want all students to enjoy the benefits of improved math skills. They want all students to enjoy the feelings of confidence and pride by succeeding in mathematics.

What keeps going wrong?

For starters, the complex, expensive math texts many teachers are told they have to use have not always worked in the past and are still not working for many students today. Most teachers are tired of watching too many students struggle with complex math texts they can’t read. Teachers are tired of watching students wasting time, transcribing inaccurately, from these texts when they could be using their classroom time actually doing math.

Eventually, many teachers set aside the text in favour of a hodgepodge of photocopied worksheets and questionable Internet lessons resulting in grossly inadequate programs that do not thoroughly cover the Ontario math expectations.

In desperation, others resort to the “dollar store” solution. Here, teachers shell-out hundreds of dollars of their own money to buy cheap, foreign-made materials to try to build some semblance of a math program to teach the complex and challenging Ontario curriculum.

A new, ominous threat to EQAO Math scores are the “book banners” and their machines. In some school boards, the curriculum police are single-mindedly installing tablet computers as the ONLY authorized learning tool! By allowing technology to completely monopolize math education, the future is dim. First, no more books. Then, no more teachers. Next, no more principals. No FREEDOM to choose the curriculum tools and approaches that meet the unique, specific needs of students.

Once the multi-national corporations take control of education technology, then they will impose their multi-national corporate curriculum - hardly a way to teach the unique Ontario curriculum or to improve EQAO scores!

On a more positive note, a school improvement plan that has helped thousands of Ontario students improve EQAO math scores is the implementation of the Ontario curriculum based, pedagogically-sound, Ontario Math Personal Student Books Grades 2 through 8. The clear, readable text and full-colour graphics overcome the “language barrier” so students can succeed at math.

Professional teachers and principals reflect on the unique needs of each student and on the realities of the local school community. They must be the decision makers when it comes to doing what is best for students and that includes deciding what learning materials and strategies work best in the classroom.

Teachers who have had success using math textbooks, will, of course, use them. Those who have not had success must search out alternative approaches.

Teachers who have had success using  tablet computers, will, of course, use them when appropriate. Those who have not had success must look elsewhere.

Teachers know that a disorganized hodgepodge of work sheets and inappropriate Internet lessons don’t add up to a viable Ontario math program. The dollar store option is even worse!

Teachers need to resist the “book banners”. Teachers must fight for the freedom to use the talents they developed at university and at teachers’ college. Teachers didn’t go to school to become technicians. They must insist on the right to select and have funded the tools and approaches that best meet the unique needs of their students. Then teachers can develop successful and confident math students and, oh, by-the-way, those EQAO math scores will finally improve.

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