Curriculum Focus Group: Friday, April 13 2012

A small group of us and other math professors met all day today with about 60 ministry officials, consultants, school district and school personnel and some teachers — to discuss the “Number Strand” in the Manitoba Curriculum.

Sounds boring?  Well yes, but eye-opening in a way.  We may write about the outcome (assuming something comes of it) at a later point.  For now we want to make available some materials we had prepared in advance, and which we were permitted to distribute, but not to present formally in any way (we were told that the day was too tightly scheduled for this kind of input).

A brief explanation of what we’re posting here:

We were told that discussion would be based on comparisons with “models from jurisdictions that have been shown to be successful in national and international assessment initiatives”, and then we were pointed to Ontario and New Zealand curricular materials.

Ontario scores slightly a bit higher than Manitoba but since implementing a similar curriculum (except for the presence of standard algorithms), its outcomes have been falling over the last 3 PISA assessment periods — like Manitoba’s.  Internationally, New Zealand’s scores are moderate — slightly weaker than Canada’s.

We did not feel these jurisdictions met the stated criterion (see PISA data below) so we did our own comparisons against:

  • Singapore, whose scores are almost unmatched and certainly well above Canada’s.  Further, their curriculum outcomes are very clear and easy to compare.
  • The California State Standards outcomes, which are possibly the strongest in the U.S. and which have had a salutary effect on scores in that state while national U.S. scores have been floundering.
  • Common Core State Standards:  a “compromise” document that brings back the standard algorithms and sets healthier grade-level outcomes.  In the past few years these standards have been adopted by 44 of the 50 states.

Here we compare milestones for Whole Number Arithmetic across these curricula, side-by-side against Ontario and WNCP.  And here we do the same with Fractional and decimal number arithmetic.

Finally, here is a sketch of what we believe is a reasonable and realistic set of outcomes, based on these comparisons, that could and should be implemented in Manitoba.

While we were permitted to distribute this information there was no opportunity given to present these documents coherently to the group today.  But we invite WISE Math JOINers and the General public to consider and respond by email to these discussion papers.

PISA Normalized mean scores 2003 – 2006 – 2009 (higher is better):

  • Canada:  532 – 527 – 527
  • New Zealand (est):   523 – 522 – 515
  • Manitoba (WNCP):  528 – 521 – 501
  • B.C. (WNCP): 538 – 523 – 523
  • Alberta (WNCP): 549 – 530 – 529
  • Saskatchewan (WNCP):  516 – 507 – 506
  • Ontario:  530 – 526 – 526
  • Quebec (for comparison):  537 – 540 – 543
  • Singapore:  DNW – DNW – 560
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