By Lindsay Jones

In an attempt to improve abysmal math-test scores, the Education Department is taking steps to pinpoint where students fall off track.

About 10,000 Grade 3 students’ math skills are being tested for the first time this week at all Nova Scotia public schools.

“The information will let us know not only what areas the students are showing difficulty, but also where we need to do some extra work with our teachers and curriculum,” said Vince Warner, Education Department director of evaluation and assessments.

Grade 12 math students scored an average of 39 per cent on the Education Department’s standardized test last year – two points lower than the year before.

“We are very, very concerned about our students’ performance in mathematics,” Warner said. “Here is an opportunity to start building with students right from the early years. When they do get into junior high and senior high, we’re building in a success plan for them.”

The department already tests students in grades 6 and 12. Warner said the testing students at the end of Grade 3 – the first key stage in the curriculum – will allow the department to better target cash and effort, rather than “just broadcasting them across the math curriculum.”

It’s about time, said Charles Cirtwill, acting president of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies.

“Essentially, every jurisdiction in Canada has been doing early assessments for at least five, and in many cases, 15 or 20 years,” Cirtwill said. “When (the department) started down this road of assessing kids, why didn’t they put in place then the full and complete assessment mechanism?”

Still, Cirtwill said he’s pleased the province is spending $100,000 to centrally mark all Grade 3 math tests – a bargain for what it’s worth.

“The more they know about those kids and the more they track through the system, the better they’re going to be able to help them,” Cirtwill said.

About 150 teachers will spend a week marking the tests in July. Students’ individual results will be shared with schools and parents this fall. Warner said school level and provincial results will be made public.