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

Teresa Wright twright@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on January 20, 2014

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.

©Guardian photo by Heather Taweel

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.

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.”