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November 3, 2000

Tests show Ontario pupils struggling with the basics

Half behind in reading

Richard Foot
National Post

Almost half of Ontario's children in Grades 3 and 6 are struggling with reading, writing and arithmetic.

Government tests show that many of the children, aged eight and 11, are failing to hit targets set by the province.

The results also show that girls are outperforming boys in all three subjects.

Janet Ecker, Ontario's education minister, said: "There's improvements that we can see, but we also know that there's a lot more work we need to do."

Results from province-wide testing of 280,000 elementary school pupils in May show student aptitude has improved slightly since the Ontario government began testing under its new curriculum, which was introduced in 1997 with a renewed emphasis on the three "R's."

The testing system measures pupils on a level from one to four. Students must achieve level two in order to graduate from one grade to another but level three is the standard the province expects from its children.

This year only 49% of Grade 3 and 50% of Grade 6 pupils achieved level three or four in reading tests.

Only 52% of Grade 3 and 48% of Grade 6 students achieved the desired standard in writing tests.

And 57% of Grade 3 and 51% of Grade 6 students achieved level three or four in mathematics.

Joan Green, CEO of the province's Education Quality and Accountability Office [EQAO], said the poor results should not be misinterpreted. "I don't think any of us would describe our children as dumb," she said.

"We have set the bar high in the province and in mathematics over half our students are achieving that."

But level three is the standard, "we'd like to get most of our students to. It's the level at which you can be sure as a parent your child will do well at the next grade," Ms. Green added.

"Generally we really need to focus continued efforts in all students doing better, particularly in reading and writing."

The Harris government created the EQAO in 1995 to measure the success of Ontario schools and to hold teachers and school boards accountable.

With a $39-million annual budget, the agency first began standardized testing in 1997.

This is the third year tests have been administered for Grades 3 and the second for Grade 6. They are designed to measure the aptitude of 8- and 11-year-old students as they finish what are considered critical years in their development and schooling.

The results of similar testing for Grade 10 students are due out in the coming months.

Every student tested is also sent home with an individual report card, and each school receives its own grade, although individual school results have not been made public.

The York Region District School Board, however, issued a statement yesterday claiming its students had outperformed the rest of the province in the latest tests.

Yesterday's report shows aptitude is generally rising among elementary school students. Across all three subject categories, the percentage of Grade 3 students in level two dropped from close to 40% in 1997 to less than 30% this year. Meanwhile, the percentage of students achieving level three rose from about 38% to 45%.

The number of students in level four also increased slightly.

There have been similar, but less dramatic improvements among Grade 6 students since 1997.

Ms. Ecker said small, incremental improvements were to be expected and warned the public not to expect a "magical" increase in numbers over the coming years.

Yesterday's report also reveals that girls had better results than boys. In English-language schools 59% of Grade 6 girls achieved the provincial standard in reading, compared to only 42% of boys.

In Grade 3 writing, 60% of girls achieved the provincial standard compared to 44% of boys.

And in maths, in both grades 3 and 6 the girls ranked about 5% higher than the boys.

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