Poor math scores in P.E.I. have reached a crisis point: UPEI professor

Teresa Wright
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In a presentation called State of mathematics in P.E.I., UPEI professor Tess Miller said she is highly concerned over the province’s dismal PISA scores, especially in math.

Poor math outcomes among P.E.I. students are a major problem, according to a university professor who is calling the situation a crisis.

In a presentation called State of mathematics in P.E.I., UPEI professor Tess Miller said she is highly concerned over the province’s dismal PISA scores, especially in math.

P.E.I. students scored last in the country and the province was repeatedly highlighted in the 2013 PISA results for coming in below the OECD average in all three areas of testing of reading, science and math.

“We cannot let this continue. We have a problem, and I would go as far as to say we have a crisis,” Miller said.

The PISA results show P.E.I. students have been steadily declining in math scores for the last six years.

Fewer than one in 10 P.E.I. students were high performing in math and had the highest proportion of low-achievers in this subject in the country.

Miller has been working as a math educator for 15 years and has published a number of math textbooks.

She explained how P.E.I.’s poor math outcomes continue to follow students throughout high school and university and have long-term consequences for those attempting to achieve the necessary credentials for careers of importance to P.E.I.

She played interviews with officials from several different schools within UPEI, including one with Janet Bryanton from the school of nursing.

Bryanton explained that an alarming number of her nursing students fail math competency exams, with some not able to determine whether 0.125 is greater or less than 0.25.

This is especially concerning, as nurses are responsible for dosing medications of these proportions.

“(This) story reaches out to each and every one of you to feel the impact of low math ability in our province in one of the most vital areas – health care,” Miller said.

Her interview with Gary Evans of the school of business revealed his students from P.E.I. have shocked him with how poorly they perform in math. Some of them cannot even complete simple percentage calculations, he said.

“We cannot let this continue. We have a problem, and I would go as far as to say we have a crisis." Tess Miller, UPEI professor

Miller also pointed to the school of veterinary medicine, where P.E.I. students had the lowest scores not only in admissions exams but also in the tests required for license certification once they complete their education.

“This scenario describes some of the most successful students in our province and I shudder to think of the gap in math ability for the average students in our province, let alone the students who struggle with math,” she said.

Miller says the education department at UPEI is responding to this concerning trend by introducing an optional math specialization certificate that will provide extra training for teachers to help students in earlier grades to better master math concepts.

She further proposed a master of education be established with a focus on mathematics education, funded by UPEI and the province.

She also called on government to help teachers upgrade their skills by helping them to really understand math and know better how to teach it.

She further propsed an afterschool math mentor program would be beneficial for many students and should be established for all P.E.I. students.

“If we don’t change the way we educate our children in mathematics, the crisis in mathematics education will extend beyond the classroom and out into the P.E.I. economy,” Miller said.

“Let’s do more than talk. Let’s get the new initiatives and recommendations in place now. We have waited far too long.”




Organizations: OECD

Geographic location: 10 P.E.I.

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Recent comments

  • Martha Farrar
    January 31, 2014 - 16:32

    Well said, Dr. Miller! Maybe this article should be available to all newspapers province-wide as well as middle and high schools.

  • B
    January 23, 2014 - 07:22

    I am a teacher from the island with an M. Sc. in Math. I had to move to China to teach because it is too difficult to get a teaching job in P.E.I. with the way the system is. I know many unemployed math majors who would love to teach but refuse to do 5 or 6 years of substitute work in the system beforehand. If you want quality education for island kids you have to start by giving the teaching jobs straight to the competent people who want them.

  • Good Lord People
    January 21, 2014 - 21:44

    All this conversation about what level math people need. You would think we are suggesting some pretty advanced math. Grade school algebra, whatever people tell you , is not advanced math. Not in any way, shape, or form. We used to teach Latin, in grade school, people. Now basic algebra is too high falutin?

  • Get back to basics
    January 21, 2014 - 17:47

    I am very familiar with the mediocre curriculum in the elementary and middle grades, but in the hands of a diligent , competent teacher it is adequate. However, there isn't enough time allotted during the school day from K on up for math and only math. You will also have to , heaven forbid, place children in different levels, according to their mastery of the content. You don't move on until you have mastered a concept. Many students have been pushed through from grade to grade and fall further behind each year. The basics were never mastered. It is the same for literacy.

  • University Student
    January 21, 2014 - 12:05

    Good for Dr. Miller to raise this concern! I am a first year university student and when I was in junior high school, my teacher made my class learn basic mental math skills such as adding and subtracting fractions and using mental math strategies to solve problems. My younger sister is now in junior high and does everything on a calculator! When I try to get her to do it in her head, she can't grasp the concept! I believe that calculators should be allowed in class, but a certain amount of each math class be set aside (10 minutes) to learn Mental Math skills without a calculator. I have done extremely well learning this way, and so have many of my fellow classmates!

    • Get with the times
      January 21, 2014 - 15:34

      You realize that if you are taking a subject that requires math, you are probably too much of an elitist snob for many of the posters here. Math is for nerds, not real people, it seems.

    • TO: "Get with the times"
      January 23, 2014 - 09:30

      WOW. Was that really necessary to refer to someone as an 'elitist snob' because they are more educated than you? I am in my first year of a Bachelor of Education, with one of my teachable being mathematics and it is people like you who make me fear for the future of this country. Comments about math being for nerds? Wow, take your head of the sand an realize math is needed for so many facets of educations and employment. You need a reality check and a lesson in not being such a mean person.

    • TO: "Get with the times"
      January 23, 2014 - 09:31

      WOW. Was that really necessary to refer to someone as an 'elitist snob' because they are more educated than you? I am in my first year of a Bachelor of Education, with one of my teachable being mathematics and it is people like you who make me fear for the future of this country. Comments about math being for nerds? Wow, take your head of the sand and realize math is needed for so many facets of education and employment. You need a reality check and a lesson in not being such a mean person.

    • TC
      January 24, 2014 - 21:30

      I think he was being sarcastic.

  • Jill Macdonald
    January 21, 2014 - 12:03

    It is easy to see that the subject studied for generations is just too difficult for this generation. As an employer, I dont want employees that are so stressed out about addition they need special treatment.

  • amac
    January 21, 2014 - 11:58

    Go back to the old way of teaching the students .The Teacher's and also Parents can't keep up with the changes and the students pay.Playing with a bunch of blocks,in gr's 2-4 is a little to much . The old Math worked why not leave it there . Like the saying goes .IF IT WORKS LEAVE IT.

  • amac
    January 21, 2014 - 11:53

    Go back to the old way of teaching the students .The Teacher's and also Parents can't keep up with the changes and the students pay.Playing with a bunch of blocks,in gr's 2-4 is a little to much . The old Math worked why not leave it there . Like the saying goes .IF IT WORKS LEAVE IT.

  • Homeschooling mother
    January 21, 2014 - 10:03

    This is one main factor in my choice to remove my kids from the school system. By grade 4 a child should know their multiplications. Mine did not, and I was told by the teacher that was OK. It is not ok that my child is not getting a good education.

  • Romeo
    January 21, 2014 - 09:01

    I grew up in Hunter River. The teachers did a good job teaching me my math skills. I am now a teacher here in Ontario. For what it is worth many students here also have poor math skills. Some can't even calculate percent on their own work with out a calculator ( calculators are forbidden in my class). My belief is that we are teaching kids things they don't ned yet. Let's go back to streamed education. One level for those contemplating higher education and the other for basic life skills. If a person wants to change steams later, take transition courses. When you think of it, do we need to teach algebra to a student that only needs basic math skills to survive?

      January 21, 2014 - 10:54

      In this day and age, anyone not using a calculator is missing the boat. A calculator also teaches you percentages. And BTW, there are 4 grammatical errors in your post.

    • Trent Collicutt
      January 21, 2014 - 11:38

      I can do percentages without a calculator. Used to be able to do square roots, but have forgotten how.

      January 22, 2014 - 13:06

      Quickly now, calculate .0001367% of $13,968,782.13to the nearest dollar. No peeking now!

    • Trent Collicutt
      January 24, 2014 - 21:38

      Multiply 13968782.13 by 0.000001367. You get $19.10. Amazing what you can do with a pencil.

    • Trent Collicutt
      January 24, 2014 - 21:42

      If this site could show proper formatting, I could show you how I did it.

  • imagine
    January 21, 2014 - 08:01

    "The PISA results show P.E.I. students have been steadily declining in math scores for the last six years." I can't imagine the math getting worse than what it was 5 years ago when I was working with students. The only way it could have gotten worse is if the students now have a negative knowledge of math. This is a crisis! PEI students are now a threat to the very logic of mathematics. Kidding aside, this is a serious situation and we can't depend on this gov't for a solution because they can't get their head out of their rear end long enough to see reality. This island is in trouble, big time. If someone with a brain doesn't step up to the plate for the next election, I fear...

    • So I guess Imagine
      January 21, 2014 - 13:17

      YOU must have a brain then correct? So why don't you put your name on a ballot in the next election? If not then quit complaining because if you are not part of the solution / then you are part of the problem.

  • Peter Llewellyn
    January 21, 2014 - 07:46

    First point --Thank you for your stand Professor Miller Second point Professor Miller is an educator with the highest qualifications Third point Professor Miller is not talking about right or wrong, best way to teach or wrong way. Simply stating the facts, our children are not receiving the math (Literacy) education needed. Fourth Point Professor Miller has confirmed that other Departments are seeing the same lack of skills. So are we are beyond trying to find blame? Professor Miller makes some basic recommendations . I would like to see these put in place as a minimum, they don't require smaller classes, parent involvement etc. We start here continue to look at other suggestions that may be out there. Doing nothing should NOT be an option.

    • don
      January 21, 2014 - 09:26

      peter i would like to know how many kids knows the times table up to 12 x 12 etc with out a calculator? our government needs help i wonder how many of them knows the table? when we have nurses not knowing math we are in trouble. but then when you have a minister of schools having no idea what they are doing then we wonder why we are in trouble. now you take the minister of education in QUE Marie Malavoy she has qualifications as a minister of education. on PEI the minister of our schools is a dairy farmer now i guess he would do great if we were teaching cows.

  • candrayo
    January 21, 2014 - 07:23

    Yes so what else is knew…our education system is failing our children, hence our society! We know it, and why government is unable to fix the problem is not so hard to understand… perhaps we have to look at our own individual responsibility as to where the system has gotten! Government can only do so much..the rest has to start at HOME!!! If we want/demand more for/from our children….we will get more!!!

  • hint hint
    January 21, 2014 - 05:41

    Start doing math drills again. Kids need to know how to do basic (BASIC) math. Stop lowering the performance bar to the lowest common denominator. Allow teachers to teach. Parents, become more involved with homework. Applicable and relevant PD days. Allow failure. Affirm success, true success, not every move a child makes. Why are students graduating our school system who cannot do math or read?

    • don
      January 21, 2014 - 09:13

      how many parents knows todays math? get back to the simple math and fire out every calculator etc from schools. so the kids has to use the brain.

  • Stop babying the students
    January 21, 2014 - 05:28

    Perhaps if right from grade 1 they should return to the old practice of holding students back that don't understand the material well enough to receive a passing grade. This isn't the Marines people, leaving someone behind May help them in this circumstance. Many people I grew up with that were held behind have moved on to be very successful in their lives. And regarding class sizes, I recall 30 students in Our classes way back when. (Way back when you actually received an education)

    • Concern mother
      January 21, 2014 - 20:40

      30 in a class way back when...does that make it right? How many kids dropped out way back when too? Parents are trying to help their children but the reality are most can't because it beyond what we learned. I am a professional with a good job and had 90 in high school math and I can't help my child with grade 11 math.

  • Grade 12 student
    January 20, 2014 - 22:21

    The article is true, I still struggle with math and English and I am graduating getting a 50 like what the hell, I'm getting a 50 because ether I don't understand or I don't try, or I don't try because I don't understand. If you go in to any classroom on pei for math or English and ask who knows what's going on half the class will just look at you. what are we going to do the school board is doing whatever the F*** it wants

    • Really...
      January 21, 2014 - 08:59

      How do you not know what is going on in your English class... you speak the language every day...

    • Recent Engineering Grad
      January 21, 2014 - 10:08

      Not long ago I was in your seat. I wasn't doing great in math but I did well in all other subjects. Go figure I just graduated engineering which is math intensive. The teachers can only do so much to teach you and the rest is up to you. You can expect to sit in class, half awake and expect to absorb and understand everything. With the current technology everything is available so readily which creates impatience when something is not quick. Have you ever sat at your kitchen table for more than 15 minutes trying to solve one of those problems? I bet the answer is no, and that is where the problem lies. I never did homework in high school. No one I knew did homework, my parents were always on my case but why should I be the only one who stays in and studies. Looking back I really regret this because I missed out on a lot of fundamentals which I had to teach myself once I got to university. Don't blame the teachers or school board, they are doing their jobs and following the curriculum. The rest is up to us.

  • Concerned mother
    January 20, 2014 - 22:03

    These statements don't shock me at all. I have a child in grade 11and there are 34 students in the math class! No teacher can ensure everyone knows what they are doing with these numbers, but our liberal government is only concerned about early learning. Well the high school students are our next work force and we need to start investing in them. Junior highs are no better! Unless you put your child in French immersion the class sizes are large as well. This all from a government that promised to improve class sizes. Also, the math tutoring after school would be great, at the moment the expectation is the students goes for extra help at lunch and that should be sufficient! many parents have to find tutors, which is no easy task, and pay them privately to make up for the lack of education they are getting with our hard earned tax dollars! We need more qualified math teachers, smaller class sizes, and schools that are more for all students, especially boys. It you took those numbers and applied them to gender I bet it would be really scary. Boys are not doing well in our school system. Why? The education system needs to ask themselves. I for one in very disappointed in the education system, especially at the High school level on P.E I.

  • teacher
    January 20, 2014 - 21:42

    It is time we got back to the basics!!! These math games and manipulatives are not teaching the kids math. Kids need to be doing more drills and learning to add and subtract as well as knowing their tables. Never mind all those different strategies,as long as they know a way to get the correct answer. Parents have absolutely no idea how to help their children with these so--called new methods of teaching. Also,this algebra is ridiculous.They don't need to know about x's and y's. This is ancient. I applaud this article in the hope that we, as teachers can teach like we used to,so that kids can get their math easier. Great wake--up call. I am also speaking as a parent of a grade 3 child. This is a great guardian article,and I hope it will get people moving and get those math marks up!!!!

    • UC Bozo
      January 20, 2014 - 23:15

      I've made a pretty good living for the last 35 years precisely because of my understanding of this 'x and y ' stuff. I moved to PEI because a local company needed someone with those skills. They want 100+ more of those employees and most of them will come from off the island. Algebra is a key skill for developing abstract thinking, and that is key for 21'st century success. I'm sorry, but your attitude is a good reflection of the problem. Cheers

    • Grandparent
      January 21, 2014 - 02:46

      I totally agree with this intelligent teacher ! As a grandparent of a Junior High student, I am astounded that Grade Eight students in a City school DO NOT know their multiplication tables !!! It is far beyond time to get back to the basics and make learning fun !

    • Trent Collicutt
      January 21, 2014 - 11:45

      "They don't need to know about x's and y's. This is ancient" I've taken a lot of course that seem to be based on this ancient X and Y stuff. Our entire technological world is based on it. Once you get past the really basic stuff, you need to use formulae. They will be X and Y based. We need to teach math beyond what is needed to tell if the cash at McDonalds is screwed up.

    • Electronics tech
      January 21, 2014 - 11:50

      I'd like to see anyone even get through a Holland College course in electronics without the X and Y stuff. Unless the depth you go into is buying something at Future shop and plugging it in. If that is what islanders consider educated, I can see why everyone is unemployed,

  • Relevancy Matters.
    January 20, 2014 - 21:15

    Hmmmm, I retired after 35 years being a fairly high paid professional. Not once in that time did I use algebra. Not once. Perhaps it's the unit of analysis being used to measure aptitude that's more problematic than the scores? Perhaps what we need is a new "intelligence" metric? Maybe we should rethink using the old way of measuring kids and pushing them into learning esoteric skills they don't wish to learn at this moment of their lives? Just askin' . . .

    • Math Matters
      January 21, 2014 - 00:43

      Really? In all seriousness, I use algebra on a weekly basis. My coworker and I were just talking about it the other day - he agreed that he does, as well.

    • Romeo
      January 21, 2014 - 08:45

      I am 50 years old and a highschool shop teacher. The only time I have ever used Algebra was one year when I had to teach grade 9 math. Maybe algebra should be left for College or University class and more time could be spent on the basics

    • To Math Matters
      January 21, 2014 - 09:06

      I think "Relevancy's" point is not about the importance of math, but rather the importance of universal testing of math skills. If something is relevant to a particular learner , be it algebra or yoga, then it should be included in the metric employed to determine their degree of proficiency. For Mr. Math Matters, clearly it ought to be included - especially if he uses it every day. However, if it's not so relevant - why privilege it over other disciplines? Indeed, if I were to cherry pick disciplines to be universally measured, I certainly wouldn't give priority to de-contextualized mathematics over, let's say, politics, physical health or how to do banking.

    • Trent Collicutt
      January 21, 2014 - 11:36

      Algebra left to College? I had to teach myself Algebra to do 1st year University math for a science course. The skills needed to make it through, either were not taught or nor focused on enough to be proficient. When I was in High School, teachers were saying to leave grammar to College, and Colleges didn't teach it because they assumed that High school was the place to learn. Again, what I do know had to be self taught. Students moving past High school should not have to educate themselves, in spite of our school system because "professionals" are saying the basic skills that are assumed aren't important. I don't use calculus often in my job, but I do need it if I want to read a paper or a text aimed at any sort of professional technical level explaining why stuff works, well enough to understand what the author is trying to say. (eg.. Wireless data. You can plug the stuff in and change a few setting without Calculus, but you can't understand how electromagnetic waves act without at least basic Calculus which you can't have without a really good understanding of Algebra.). Don't cripple student's future because you can't be bothered teaching. The future will require technical skill, which will require some math, and will definitely require grammar.

  • don
    January 20, 2014 - 20:52

    stop allowing them to use calculators in class. use the brain if they have one. they can use one in grade 13

    • Quiet Observer
      January 21, 2014 - 07:30

      Agree 100%. Teach our children how to use their brains and think. I remember in elementary and junior high school doing math competitions in class to get us to add, subtract, multiply and divide in our heads quickly. We had to learn the "times tables". Calculators were just starting to emerge and no one had them. But we could do math in our heads, quickly. We could think. Now, ask a high school student to add a column of 5 digit numbers and they have to use a calculator and don't even know how to do it by hand. I had a paper boy who I would refuse to tell him what the correct change was and make him figure it out for himself. It was painful at times.

    • But
      January 21, 2014 - 15:28

      That was before twitter and video games. No one has time for unimportant stuff. From the comments, learning math is outdated.

    • Head Shaker
      January 21, 2014 - 15:31

      You realize that if I teach my kids math, and those who think it is a waste of time do not, there is a good chance my kids will get a good job and the others will be asking them " Do you want fries with that?"?

  • Wayne
    January 20, 2014 - 20:36

    Good for you. Call a spade a spade. Now, lets all do something, it isn't just our teachers responsibility!