Is it wise to make teachers undergo mandatory math testing?
It has been proposed that all teachers should take an annual math test in response to dropping math levels in Ontario. Source: Shutterstock

The news about a statement made by Canadian politician, Premier Doug Ford, who said that the Ontario province should make school teachers take a math test every year, has gone viral.

If the proposal goes through, all teachers – whether or not they teach Math – will be required to undergo mandatory math testing.

His statement comes after Ontario Education Minister Lisa Thompson introduced a bill that will require all new teachers to pass a math exam.

During the question and answer segment, he reportedly said, ““I have an idea: Why don’t we test all the teachers, rather than just new ones, on learning how to deliver math?”

His proposal and the new bill stemmed from low math test scores among public elementary students in Ontario. Only 49 percent of Grade 6 students met the provincial math standard last year, down 54 percent in 2013-2014.

For Grade 3 students, 61 percent met the standard in 2017-2018, down from 67 percent in 2013-2014.

Education Minister Lisa Thompson called the results “unacceptable” at the time. But despite efforts by the government to reverse the trend, the students’ math scores have steadily been dropping, which has promoted the call for more action, such as a mandatory math testing.

According to Global News, “Last August, the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO), which administers standardized assessments in the province, said math test scores among public elementary students in Ontario have been decreasing over the last five years.”

The logic behind the Premier’s words is presumably that students should not be expected to improve their Math if their own teachers can’t do it. However, the concept has faced controversy and backlash from teachers, educators and the general public.

Harvey Bischof, President of the union representing secondary school teachers in Ontario, called the idea “nonsensical”, saying it could potentially put teachers out of work if the mandatory math testing is approved.

In a phone interview, he was quoted as saying, “High school teachers in Ontario are subject specialists. If you’re not qualified to teach math, essentially, you don’t. And if you are qualified, you don’t need a test.

“Imagine taking an effective art, history or geography teacher, and finding out they can’t solve a quadratic equation, and preventing them from teaching the subjects that they’re highly qualified to teach.”

According to Calgary Herald, NDP education critic Marit Stiles said that more information is needed if the government hopes to carry out this plan, and that the best way to ensure students receive good math scores is to make sure there are enough teachers in the classroom.

She said, “I think the government makes policy up on the back of a napkin. I don’t know what the details are. It just sounds like the premier’s musings right now.”

She also told the CBC that she had concerns over the fact that there hasn’t been any discussion about additional resources for math teachers, and that the “government should be bolstering curriculum supports and teacher training instead of imposing a test on teachers.”

Mary Reid, Associate Professor at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, told the CBC that she always advises new graduates to take additional qualifications to improve the way they teach math.

She said such courses are much more effective than “cramming for one test” because a course allows more immersive “substantial” learning. Reid said she doesn’t believe the new test will be an accurate reflection of teacher’s math knowledge or that it will be effective in boosting students’ test scores.

Other education reforms the Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government has announced include increased class sizes as well as a new math curriculum that goes “back to basics”, sparking protests and walkouts among students.

Students don’t feel they are being heard on these issues even though it affects them, which is why so many have joined the movement.

The controversy suggests that there are better ways the government can work with teachers, as well as students, on how to face this issue of falling math scores.

Liked this? Then you’ll love…

How to study mathematics effectively

Creative ways to make math fun for K12 learners