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Standardized test results mixed for Ontario students

The Canadian Press

TORONTO — Ontario elementary school students are showing some progress in writing and reading, but a significant number of Grade 9 students aren't meeting provincial standards in math, a new report shows.

Achievement levels in reading, writing and math among elementary students remained relatively flat this year despite government efforts to boost funding and hire more teachers, the Education Quality and Accountability Office report indicated.

But students did show improvement in writing, said the independent agency, which conducts the provincial tests and analyzes the results.

Grade 6 students showed progress in all three subjects, with the most dramatic improvement in writing, the report showed. Sixty-seven per cent of students who took the test met or exceeded the provincial benchmark, up from 61 per cent last year.

As well, 40 per cent of Grade 6 students who didn't meet the reading standard when they were in Grade 3 in 2005 did so this year, the EQAO said.

The number of Grade 3 students who met Ontario's reading and math benchmarks dropped one percentage point this year, the report showed. Sixty-one per cent of kids met or surpassed the provincial standard for reading, while 68 per cent achieved the same result in math.

But the students advanced more in writing, with 66 per cent meeting or scoring above the provincial standard, two percentage points better than the previous year.

Student writing was a source of concern in the past, but the new results show “what focused attention and intervention can accomplish” once a problem has been identified, the EQAO said.

That approach must be used to target areas of low achievement, particularly among Grade 9 applied math students, it added.

Two-thirds of the applied math students fell short of the provincial benchmark, while three-quarters of academic math students met or surpassed it, the report indicated.

“This is a continuing challenge for us — how do we help youngsters get the mastery that they must get?” said EQAO CEO Marguerite Jackson.

“What we do know is that Grade 3 and 6 are very important foundation years, and we must pay attention to how youngsters are doing at those levels because the interventions are very important to getting them ready for a Grade 9 program.”

Girls in Grades 3 and 6 also performed better than boys in all three subjects, indicating that more needs to be done to address the gender gap, she said.

Meanwhile, special-needs students and those learning English as a second language showed improvement, primarily in reading and writing, the report found.

Nearly half of the Grade 6 ESL students met the reading standard this year, a jump of nine percentage points over last year. Fifty-three per cent met the writing standard, an increase of 11 percentage points from the previous year.

Special-needs students also showed progress in reading and writing at both the Grade 3 and Grade 6 level.

Education Minister Kathleen Wynne hailed the test scores as proof of the “continuous improvement” that's been made in education since the Liberals took office in late 2003.

Overall, 65 per cent of Grade 3 and 6 students are meeting or exceeding the provincial standards in reading, writing and math, up from 54 per cent in 2002-03, she said.

“There are pockets of kids who are doing extremely well and who are really excelling, and then there are other groups of kids where we obviously need to do more work,” Ms. Wynne said.

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