In Brief: AIMS Senior Policy Analyst Bobby O`Keefe speaks out on Nova Scotia provincial math exam results in this article from the Halifax Daily News. O`Keefe is the author of a Commentary, The Numbers Don`t Add Up, that examines the provincial reporting of the results and measures for improving.
By Lindsay Jones
The province may be responsible for students’ poor math scores because of the incomplete way it reports standardized test results, a local think-tank says.
“This is about bad reporting,” Bobby O’Keefe, senior policy analyst for Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS), said. “When you can’t identify the problem, then you can’t identify what the solution is.”
AIMS’s new report points out inconsistencies in average scores for Grade 12 math-exam results between the province and school boards.
For instance, AIMS said Halifax Regional School Board numbers showed students scored an average mark of 49.6 on the math exam, whereas the province reported it was 43 per cent.
Provincewide, school board numbers showed students scored an average 47.8 per cent on the test. The province reported it was 39 per cent.
AIMS takes issue with how the Education Department, unlike other provinces, does not mark all exams. The Education Department centrally marks a representative sample.
O’Keefe said it’s also a concern that the province doesn’t collect data on school-level results.
“Students are not taught in school boards,” O’Keefe said. “They’re taught in schools. Without looking at the results generated at the school level, how do you really know what’s going on?”
AIMS ranked high schools for which school boards had provided information on math-exam marks. Average scores showed four of five of the highest scoring schools were from the Halifax board: St. Patrick’s High, Sackville High, Charles P. Allen High and Auburn Drive High. St. Pat’s topped the list with an average score of 75 per cent on the Grade 12 math exam.
“Surely, the phones should be ringing off the hook at St. Pat’s as their peers from across the province try to learn why and how they are doing so much better,” the report said. “Unfortunately the phones at St. Pat’s remain quiet because no one knows of its results except the school itself.”
On the flip side, some of the lowest performers were also in metro: Dartmouth High, Duncan MacMillan High in Sheet Harbour and J.L. Ilsley High.
School-board superintendent Carole Olsen said the report raises interesting questions, such as “Why is there a discrepancy?” She said she plans to refer it to school board staff for more in-depth analysis.
Olsen said she supports marking all exams centrally. “It would give us consistency right across the province that we’re looking for and it would give very good professional development to the teachers who were assigned to mark centrally.”
Vince Warner, Education Department director of evaluation and assessments, said he has considered marking all exams centrally.
“There are other models. Another model might be for us to bring in all those papers and mark them centrally, which I’m not going to say is out of the picture.”
When asked about collecting school-level data, he said the exam is a service for schools and students, both of which are provided with their own individual results.
“They have the marks where they need to have them. We’re producing a central score, which is for the board and the province only.”
Like Olsen, he said the report raises interesting questions. Still, he questioned the results. He said data from all schools weren’t available and the provincewide average isn’t weighted according to the number of students in each school.