Ontario will be the first province in the country to require student teachers to pass a basic math test before getting their teaching licence, according to legislative changes introduced by the Progressive Conservative government.

Education Minister Lisa Thompson said on Thursday that the province would work with the Ontario College of Teachers, which licenses, regulates and disciplines educators, to develop details on the regulation. Ms. Thompson was vague on the how the test would be administered and whether both elementary and high-school teachers would be required to take it.

“We need to ensure that our students have teachers in front of them that have the capacity to teach the math that’s required for today and for jobs of the future,” Ms. Thompson told reporters.

A spokeswoman for Ms. Thompson said no other province requires aspiring teachers to take a math test. But teacher testing is not uncommon in jurisdictions outside Canada. Australia recently implemented nationwide mandatory math testing to ensure that future teachers meet minimal proficiency math standards, and several U.S. jurisdictions also mandate teacher-testing in math, said Mary Reid, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE).

The government’s move to test teacher candidates on fractions, percentages and other math concepts runs contrary to a recommendation by those in the math community, who say a mandatory arithmetic course in university-training programs would be more beneficial.

“I’m really reluctant to say good things about it,” Prof. Reid said. “It should really be about supporting teacher candidates … giving them the confidence through courses and through tutoring and through professional development. It’s not about giving them a test.”

Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, called the mandatory test “unwarranted and unnecessary” and said the government should be supporting teachers.

But Clive Packer, an Ottawa-area parent who has been outspoken about the failure to change the direction of math education, welcomed the math test. He added that there needs to be a university-level course for student teachers before they write it.

Math has become a flashpoint in many parts of the country as falling student test scores have ignited debate about how the subject is being taught in schools.

In Ontario, the number of children meeting provincial standards has dipped to a record low. Fewer than half of Grade 6 pupils – 49 per cent – met the provincial standard in math in 2017-18, a decline of one percentage point from the previous year and down five percentage points since 2014.

Several math professors and parents say provincial curriculums fail to teach the basics, and instead encourage problem-solving and expressing ideas in a variety of ways.

But experts and politicians are also looking at teachers’ math skills and training.

A recent Globe and Mail analysis found the amount of classroom time university training programs spent on math for elementary school teachers across the country varies from 36 hours to more than 100 hours. Further, the programs focus primarily on learning how to teach the subject.

The Ontario government is holding consultations on a variety of topics in education, including math. Ms. Thompson had promised in July that the government would “restore restore proven methods of teaching the fundamentals” and examine teacher training.

Several universities have started introducing courses that teach student teachers math basics. This fall, for example, student teachers at OISE will be taking a 24-hour mandatory course on fractions, percentages and other basic arithmetic on top of 54 hours focusing on math pedagogy and research. This comes after OISE researchers administered a Grade 6 and 7 level math test to new students and found that about one-third scored at or below 70 per cent, the provincial standard.

And at Lakehead University, teacher candidates take a math-competency exam on numeracy basics, including fractions and volumes. The university has found that about one in three people in the first year fail the tests and must take a course to understand math concepts.

They can take the test three more times, but must pass it to graduate.

Ms. Thompson also announced on Thursday that the government is proposing legislative amendments that would require the discipline committees of the Ontario College of Teachers and the College of Early Childhood Educators to revoke an educator’s certificate for any act of sexual abuse on a student or child.

The Globe and Mail, October 25, 2018