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Randall Denley: Ontario math test ruling is where we end up when race becomes more important than competence


After a court victory by teachers in the province, not only do non-white students no longer have to pass standardized math tests, no one does.


 As part of a 2019 plan to improve Ontario students’ dismal scores on standardized math tests, the provincial government instituted a mandatory math proficiency test for new teaching graduates. The test didn’t require teachers to be serious mathematicians, but they did need to get 70 per cent on the test, which measured math knowledge and teaching strategies and covered Grade 3 to Grade 9 math.


Something similar is required in countries such as the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, several states in the United States, Japan, Singapore and China.


Requiring a basic knowledge of one of the most important subjects of instruction didn’t seem entirely unreasonable, except to teaching students who were worried that they would fail the test. The students formed a group called the Ontario Teachers’ Candidate Council and took the matter to court.


They found an oblique, and ultimately successful, way to overturn the test. Instead of attacking the concept directly, the teachers’ lawyer argued that the test violated the Charter rights of “racialized” students because they didn’t pass at as high a rate as white students. Black and Indigenous students were particularly affected, the Divisional Court was told.


Earlier in December, the court ruled in favour of the student teachers, saying “Racialized teacher candidates have gone through an education system in which they have suffered discrimination and disadvantage.”


Perhaps so, but the teacher candidates in question have all been able to acquire a bachelor’s degree and successfully complete a two-year teacher training course. Apparently the discrimination and disadvantages only manifests itself in the understanding of math, and even then only for some.


The results of the first math test show that 70.3 per cent of Black teacher candidates and 71.4 per cent of Indigenous candidates passed. The pass rate for white candidates was 90.5 per cent.


The ruling also stated “racialized students benefit from being taught by racialized teachers.” The three-judge panel concluded that this advantage was so great that it outweighed the benefits of teachers having to prove they have a reasonable familiarity with math and how to teach it.


As a result of the decision, not only do non-white students no longer have to pass the math test, no one does. The court threw it out. The Ontario government has not yet said whether it will appeal.


The judges were not altogether opposed to teachers having to know something about math. As they said in their decision, “We begin our analysis by accepting as common sense the connection between teacher candidates’ mathematical knowledge and student performance.”


The issue, as the judges saw it, was not whether enhancing teachers’ mathematical knowledge was good, but whether the mandatory test was likely to help. Putting on their public policy hats, they suggested that perhaps a mandatory math course during the teacher training program would be a reasonable substitute. Curiously, they reasoned that a math course would not work against racialized students, but a math test would.


The details of this ruling deserve a place in the Woke Justice Hall of Fame, but it is the larger themes that are important.


Once again, Ontario teachers are going to great lengths to assert that they, not the duly elected government, should call the shots in education. Ottawa teacher Bella Lewkowicz, one of the founders of the teaching candidates group, called the decision “a huge victory,” and added, “It’s not often that educators can claim victory over the Ministry of Education.”


This “victory” means that teachers will no longer have to demonstrate any mastery of math. That’s great for the minority of teachers who couldn’t pass the test, but what about students who need better math teaching?


The most disturbing thing about the judges’ decision is the idea that racialized candidates’ failure to meet a legitimate job qualification is a problem to be solved by taking away the requirement. Where does that line of reasoning end? What if a would-be teacher was unable to pass the teacher training course? Would the solution be to point at the “discrimination and disadvantage” faced by racialized students and pass the person anyway? Or for that matter, should racialized students automatically be admitted to teachers’ college, regardless of their marks?


The Ontario math test decision is where we end up when race becomes more important than demonstrated competence. Not only does it undermine merit, it’s insulting to non-white people. In effect, the judges are saying that racialized people, even those with a university education, don’t have the intellectual capacity to pass a math test.


Some victory.


Randall Denley is an Ottawa political commentator, author and former Ontario PC candidate. Contact him at


Source: National Post

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