More students flunk Math 6 exam

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Almost a quarter of students flunked last spring’s Math 6 exam, the province reports. But St. Albert Catholic educators say that dip may be the result of time pressure rather than poor skills.

Alberta Education released its annual accountability pillar report for schools this week. The report measures school performance based on several factors, including the results for provincial achievement tests.

Education Minister David Eggen introduced a 15-minute, 15-question calculator-free segment to the Math 6 exam last spring in response to concerns about flagging math scores.

The report shows a province-wide dip in scores on the Math 6 provincial achievement test for 2016-2017, with about three per cent fewer students meeting the acceptable standard (a score of 50 plus). About 23 per cent flunked the test (scored under 50) – the highest number since 2012.

Students also tended to do better on the regular part of last spring’s Math 6 test than the no-calculator one, the report shows. About 65 per cent of students had acceptable scores on the no-calculator portion province-wide, compared to about 79 per cent on the regular portion.

Scores for the Math 9 exam, which does not yet have a calculator-free element, were mostly unchanged compared to last year or 2012.

Eggen said these results showed a skill gap in Grade 6 math that he had introduced the no-calculator element to highlight.

“We can see how kids need to be able to be more strong in doing math on paper.”

Ulana Soletsky, math and numeracy co-ordinator for GSACRD, said calculators see so little use at the Grade 6 level that she didn’t believe the no-calculator test could explain these lower scores. Teachers she interviewed cited time pressure as a bigger factor, with many saying that their students felt stressed and tired after the no-calculator portion of the exam.

Rhonda Nixon, assistant superintendent of learning services for GSACRD, said this time pressure might have been worse for French Math 6 students, as they have to constantly switch between English and French. That could explain this year’s atypical results.

Whereas GSACRD’s French Math 6 students normally score better than its English ones on the achievement test, this year they actually fared worse, with 80 per cent having acceptable scores compared to 86, provincial data shows. The proportion of students failing the French Math 6 test also jumped to 20 per cent from about nine last year, whereas the amount of failures for the English version went up maybe one per cent. Just 51 per cent of students taking the French test reached the acceptable standard on the no-calculator part, compared to about 71 per cent of those taking the English exam.

“There are some questions you should never have to use a calculator on,” said Nixon, who supported having a no-calculator part to provincial math tests.

But this shouldn’t be a speed test, she continued – the aim should be to find out if a child can do this task, not if they can do it fast. The province’s move to double the time available for the Grade 6 exam could help boost student achievement.

Soletsky said the no-calculator segment would have a more clear-cut effect on Grade 9 students, as they use calculators more often. She’s been having students practice no-calculator problems in class to prepare for the exam and better gauge their skills.

The province plans to add a no-calculator test to the Math 9 exam for this school year.

Visit http://bit.ly/2gwRqLs for provincial achievement test results.

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.