In Brief: It’s about time. AIMS has fought for years for the public release of provincial exam data to help improve student performance. In Nova Scotia, the fight culminated in a ruling by the Freedom of Information Commissioner that the release of such information is in the public interest. The Nova Scotia Department of Education is now releasing the data in a more timely fashion. As AIMS senior policy analyst Bobby O’Keefe explains in this front page story in the Chronicle-Herald, the next step is the school by school results, and then using that information to help students.  

Nova Scotia’s Grade 12 students are getting better at navigating their way through math tests, but results released Thursday show they’re still far from acing them.

In fact, only half of the students who wrote the provincial Mathematics 12 exam this year actually passed and the average score was 51 per cent. The exam is worth 30 per cent of the final grade in the course.

Despite the low scores, the Education Department said it’s proud of how far the province’s high schoolers have come over the past year.

After all, 86 per cent of students still passed the course. And this year is a huge success compared to last year — only 26 per cent of students across the province passed the same test in 2007 and the overall average was just 39 per cent.

“That dramatic shift in results is really a heroic provincial effort to show what our students can do in mathematics,” Vince Warner, the department’s director of evaluation services, said Thursday. “We’ve been focusing, certainly, . (and) putting resources toward…on results that we’re not pleased with . that.”

Scores are also looking up for students who took Advanced Mathematics 12 this year, as 71 per cent passed the provincial exam, compared to 64 per cent a year ago.

Even better, 93 per cent of students passed the advanced course this year. “That’s the big picture, that’s the real picture,” Mr. Warner said. “The exam is . it’s a small part of that final mark that students get. “We’re…just that . really pleased with all of our efforts over this year. We’re on an upward trend.”

Francophone students improved over last year as well with 43 per cent passing the Math 12 exam, up from 33 in 2007 and 90 per cent passing the Advanced Math 12 exam, up from 78 in 2007.

Despite the department’s excitement, NDP education critic Percy Paris isn’t convinced this year’s math scores are “anything to boast about.”

“I think this is just a symptom of how much work we have to do across Nova Scotia when it comes to education,” Mr. Paris said Thursday.

Liberal education critic Leo Glavine said he’s “pleased to see some improvement,” but he agreed the province’s Grade 12 math scores just aren’t good enough. Mr. Glavine pointed out that many students are now opting to attend college or technical school for their post-secondary education, taking programs that require strong math skills.

“While making a small stride, we have an enormous amount of work to do,” he said Thursday.

The Atlantic Institute for Market Studies is simply happy to see the Education Department releasing more provincial exam results than ever before.

“It’s great to see that they’re taking our advice and getting the results out to the public as quickly as possible,” senior policy analyst Bobby O’Keefe said Thursday.

“Particularly with the 2008 results, seeing them a month after the exams were written is certainly a step up from the 2007 results, which are coming out at the same time,” he said.

“Releasing results is one way to show people what you’re doing in the classroom and what you’re doing with curriculum.”

But Mr. O’Keefe said he’s still waiting to see school-by-school scores, not just results by school boards. The province has said it’s working on that. Mr. Warner said there has been “a significant change with our mathematics this year, with the request of our superintendents back in the spring of last year to mark all exams.”

To make that happen, the province trained teachers at seven regional sites this year to ensure that marking is consistent, he said.

“Marking all of those exams has given teachers some additional experience, helped them to see what the expectations are more clearly,” he said.

The Education Department says its complete summary of Nova Scotia high school examinations and provincial assessments for grades 3, 6 and 9 will be available in the minister’s report to parents later this summer.

The department also said in a news release it will continue to push its “provincial math strategy,” which has already seen schools increase the amount of time they’re spending on math, as well as the development of two new math options with more class time called Mathematics 10 Plus and Mathematics Foundations 10 Plus. The province is also reviewing its mathematics curriculum.

Education Minister Karen Casey noted Thursday that though this year’s math marks are higher, they’re still not as good as they should be.

Ms. Casey said the province will continue to provide math mentors and professional development for teachers to boost scores, especially in Mathematics 12, where students are still straddling the line between passing or failing.

She pointed out that about 40 per cent of students are taking the advanced math course, but about half of them should probably be enrolled in the less difficult course, which would likely bump up grades in Mathematics 12. “Some students go into that advanced math and they struggle and they don’t feel the success that they would feel if they were in a regular math,” Ms. Casey said after a cabinet meeting.

Mr. Glavine said some math teachers he has talked to have rationalized higher scores this year because five per cent fewer students are taking advanced math. “That is a good thing, as it should be for a smaller percentage of students,” he said.

Go to for more on Grade 12 provincial exam results, including results for English, English communications and physics.