Northern B.C. school district fighting math decline

The Coast Mountains School District is battling alarmingly low and declining math abilities in its schools by hiring a numeracy coordinator.

School district administrators discuss topics at a recent board meeting.

The Coast Mountains School District is battling alarmingly low and declining math abilities in its schools by hiring a numeracy coordinator, who will seek to improve math teaching and coordinate a plan to help students better understand numbers.

The most recent annual report from the district (2014-2015) shows that nearly 70 per cent of students in Grade 7 are not meeting math expectations, and 40 per cent of Grade 4 students not understanding enough.

The goal is for this new numeracy coordinator to strengthen and “differentiate our [teaching] practice in the classrooms so that all students are developing numeracy skills at high levels,” said school district superintendent Katherine McIntosh.

“Our student achievement data shows that we have quite a bit to work to do with that, so that is why we created the position.”

The school district hired a numeracy coordinator last year after teachers asked for one, but McIntosh said the person they hired cancelled last minute, and the district did not have time to hire someone else.

This year they hired Karen Scales, previous district principal in learner support, for the position starting in September.

As numeracy coordinator, Scales will develop a district-wide plan for improving math abilities, do research into the best teaching strategies and resources, and work with local principals and teachers to make improvements to math instruction.

“In the end I think it’s a much better result, because we have someone with an amazing skill set, who is experienced at the district level… and has really good relationships with teachers and principals in the district,” McIntosh said.

Scales’ previous position as principal of learner support in the school district has been dissolved since it is no longer needed. It was created in 2011 to guide the district-wide shift to a learner support model in special education.

Student performance in math and other areas is assessed via provincial tests called Foundation Skills Assessments (FSAs), which are given to students in Grade 4 and Grade 7.

The most recent district report shows that only 58 per cent of Grade 4 students in this school district met or exceeded expectations in numeracy in 2014-2015. That means 42 per cent did not meet expectations.

That is a small increase compared to the prior four years, but student understanding of numbers is declining in Grades 7 and 10.

Only 32 per cent of Grade 7 students met expectations and 67 per cent did not meet expectations in 2015.

In workplace mathematics for Grade 10, 38 per cent of students got C+ or better and pre-calculus Grade 10, there were 53 per cent of students who finished with C+ or better.

The statistics are included in the draft Aboriginal Education Report for 2014-2015, which was presented at the school district board meeting in June.