Province getting schools ‘back to basics’ paying dividends for Ontario students: Ecker

Education Minister Stephen Lecce. Recent EQAO test results suggest the Ford government’s commitment to improving student outcomes is starting to pay off. Math scores, in particular, are trending upwards across all grade levels in both English and French school systems. Photo credit: Facebook/Stephen Lecce


It didn’t receive a lot of news coverage, but the latest test results released from the Ontario Government’s Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) show that the government’s plan to improve student outcomes is working.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce’s laser focus on “getting back to basics,” improving foundational skills like literacy and mathematics, working to ensure that there are no labour disruptions due to teachers’ contract talks, coupled with new investments are starting to pay off. 

Improving student outcomes was a major promise in the 2018 election campaign.  Premier Doug Ford’s Conservatives were highly critical of the previous Liberal government’s drift away from standards and the introduction of things like “Discovery Math” curriculum with its resulting drop in math scores. 

Since their election, the Tories have worked steadily to introduce an improved math curriculum, added an additional $700 million dollars to this year’s education budget, hired 2,000 more educators including teachers with special expertise in literacy, doubled the number of math coaches in classrooms, put a “math lead” in every school board and created a “math action team” to improve scores in underperforming school boards. 

The results are encouraging. Overall, the declines have appeared to stop and instead, been replaced by small gains in reading, writing and math scores. The math scores, in particular, are trending upwards across all grade levels in both English and French school systems. Literacy achievement has also stabilized or made modest gains, with higher scores on the Grade 10 literacy test. 

One contributing factor, it is also important to note, is that this past school year was the first uninterrupted one since 2018-2019, following waves of the COVID pandemic. 

“After years of difficulty and following a global pandemic, we are seeing stability and some incremental gains in reading, writing and math scores that demonstrate our investments,” the Minister told a press conference releasing the latest results. 

However, he made it clear that more work must be done to capitalize on and maintain progress. “Given Ontario’s increasing investments in literacy and math, and the improvements students are making in those skills, now is the time to work together to ensure students stay in class learning essential skills that will set them up for long-term success.”

Earlier reforms have included enhanced tutoring support programs focused on math and literacy and expanded summer learning programs. In addition, students from kindergarten to Grade 2 are being screened to identify early problems that might challenge the child’s ability to learn. It is the largest screening program in Canada. 

The government has been particularly keen to increase the number of students who have up-to-date technical and scientific skills to meet the economy’s increased demand for skilled trades people. 

After the turbulence of the pandemic-caused “on-again, off-again” class time, the government is also paying attention to the mental health needs of students with additional investments and the introduction of a mental health toolkit that will help students learn how to manage stress and how to get help. 

“With the extraordinary challenges facing educators in recent times – COVID, influx of new Canadians choosing Ontario as their new home, changes taking place in the workplace leading to demands for new skills, and so on, making progress in widespread student performance is quite remarkable in such an incredibly challenging world,” said long-time education expert, Gary Rabbior, President of the Canadian Foundation for Economic Education.  

He went on to add that we “hope that Ontario can continue to achieve progress in helping our youth prepare for, and build a successful future.” 

Ontario’s parents and future employers can only say “amen to that.”

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