Math Task Force - October 16, 2015

The second Math Task Force meeting was held on October 16. 

At this meeting we heard from two of the subcommittees and started to really dig into what the work of the subcommittees will be. All of the subcommittees have been meeting and working in between the large group meetings. We also started to discuss what the final product will look like.

Dr. Howitt took us through an illuminating exercise in which each person identified their feelings and impressions so far. Everyone was feeling very excited about the possibilities, a little overwhelmed with all of the information out there, and determined and passionate about the work ahead. We discussed that the purpose of the task force was to develop concrete recommendations and while we need to do our research, the point is not to do a deep dive. Everyone seemed to find this emphasis helpful and a big part of the recommendations will be a result of what we hear back from all of our stakeholder groups within our own Board about what they find works and doesn’t work (students, parents, teachers). This was an important step because if the scope was too large, we might find ourselves right back where we started, and we would not, as I intended, hone in on what we’re going to do going forward. In other words, the project is intended to go beyond “descriptive” to “prescriptive.”

We also reviewed the Board’s Math Vision and started to discuss some of the big ideas that might challenge our belief systems and make us uncomfortable. Again, this is necessary in order to ensure that we are not making assumptions and we are not approaching the work with a certain bias. In fact, we started to delve into rote versus discovery models. Since the Math Task Force started, I have been doing my own research and it seems that this question, which should be empirical, is surrounded by politics and controversy. And authors that strongly recommend one method describe the other method disparagingly – this raises red flags for me as a researcher. We will need to work through this as a team and hearing from our stakeholders will help us understand this issue better. Two things that seem to be consistent are that teachers need to be able to respond to their students’ needs and early learning is key. I’m not sure we’re at the answer on rote versus discovery yet, and my belief is that there is a place for both. The board's approach needs to be based in evidence from a variety of sources and we will need to be sure that expectations are clear.

In addition, we discussed the Board's EQAO results of the last 10 years which show a clear pattern of declining results within grades 3 and 6, lower scores in grade 6 than grade 3, and a loss of interest in math between grades 3 and 6, particularly for girls. Among other gender differences, the decline in grade 6 math scores from 2005 to 2014 seems to be greater for boys than girls. In grade 9, we have seen improvement in the applied stream; in fact, it is higher than the provincial result, but both are only around 50%. We have also seen steady gains in grade 9 academic math, with boys and girls performing very similarly at around 85% in 2014. We know that students in Special Education classes and English Language Learners have additional learning needs. Disaggregating (breaking down) the results in this way helps us to pinpoint positive as well as problem areas. Clearly we’ve made some gains and it’s the purpose of the Math Task Force to find out what we’re doing right and what we should change.

This is a multi-faceted project that is certainly challenging all of us. Although we will be gathering feedback from parents, students, and teachers during the Math Task Force, please feel free to give me feedback any time!


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Jessica Sartori