Ontario students are continuing to struggle with math according to the latest standardized test results released by the province Wednesday.

Math scores for grade six students from the province’s Education Quality and Accountability Office showed that students have difficulty applying their knowledge especially when it comes to problem solving.

Speaking at a public library in downtown Toronto today, Education Minister Liz Sandals said students are actually doing well at solving math questions, but struggle with applying their knowledge to real-life problems.

“Where the kids are struggling is the problem-solving and critical thinking part of the curriculum,” Sandals said. “So, it’s when they’re asked to use those math facts to solve more real-life problems, that’s when we find we have too many kids who are struggling.”

The proportion of grade three students who met the provincial standard has dropped to 67 per cent from 71 per cent in 2010, while the percentage of grade six students who met the standard dropped seven points to 54 per cent.

At the secondary level, although scores have been improving slightly in both academic and applied courses in the last five years, more than half the students in an applied course are still not meeting the provincial math standard. The results show that 90 per cent of students who did not meet the standard in grade nine also failed to do so when they were in grade six.

By contrast, literacy test scores have increased over the last five years with 78 per cent of both grade three and grade six students meeting the expected level in writing, compared to 70 per cent in 2010.

When it comes to reading, seventy per cent of grade three students and 79 per cent of grade six students met the provincial standard, an increase of eight and seven percentage points, respectively, over the last five years.

Grade 10 students who took the Ontario Secondary Literacy Test exhibited a high level of literacy with 83 per cent passing on their first try. However, students’ success rate in the applied English course decreased to 50 per cent from 60 per cent in 2010.

Applied courses were introduced in secondary schools to help students with different needs and learning styles. Bruce Rodrigues, EQAO’s chief executive officer, said in a written statement that it might be time to review the intent of these courses and how they can be improved.

“To paint a quick picture, grade six students know how to multiply (for example) but struggle to know when multiplication is needed to solve a problem,” Rodrigues said. “They perform best on questions asking them to demonstrate their math knowledge and least well when asked to apply that knowledge.”

Dr. Donna Kotsopoulos, an associate professor at Wilfrid Laurier’s faculty of education, said the debate on what children should be taught, and how, has been a piecemeal approach so far. There ought to be a focus panel of parents, teachers and policy makers who should reach a consensus on what’s important in terms of a math strategy, she said.

“As a province, we need a mathematics strategy - one that touches not only on the curriculum and the content and the way in which students are learning, but the way in which we’re training teachers to teach our students,” Kotsopoulos said. “The amount of mathematics instruction they’re getting in pre-service teacher education programs, the amount of mathematics courses that they should have even to become a teacher - these are questions that really need to be addressed in order for us to see a change in the trajectory.”

A group of parents has been calling on the province for months to change the way math is taught in public schools. A Change.org petition, which has garnered more than 2,000 signatures since January, appeals to Sandals to create “a more structured system and a solid foundation in arithmetic and problem-solving.”

The petition was started by Teresa Murray, a retired teacher who said she had to hire tutors for her own children almost a decade ago, and since then, she said she realized there are thousands of other children who are lacking in the fundamentals of math.

Murray argues that EQAO test results are artificially high because parents often pay for private tutors to help their children with math.

The education minister suggested TVO’s website as a resource for students to get individualized math help after school hours with certified Ontario teachers. Last year, about 280 teachers provided more than 700 hours of free tutoring on the site, Sandals said.

@VidyaKauri is on Twitter. Follow @CP24 for instant breaking news.