Exploring the Relationship Between High School Math Achievement and PSE Pathways Using the CRP Dataset

Exploring the Relationship Between High School Math Achievement and PSE Pathways Using the CRP Dataset was written by Jackie Pichette, David Kanters & Sofia Ahmed.

Students with stronger math achievement in high school are more likely to access and succeed in postsecondary education

Students with stronger math achievement tend to graduate high school, access postsecondary education (PSE), earn higher postsecondary grades and graduate postsecondary in higher numbers, according to a new report by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO). They are also more likely to enrol in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs. The findings are based on high school math grades as well as scores on the Grade 9 standardized Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) test, which focuses on math, as achievement measures. The report also examines the relationship between grade 9 math stream and student outcomes.

The report uses data from the Hamilton Community Research Partnership (CRP), a data sharing coalition of school boards, postsecondary institutions, the Hamilton Community Foundation and HEQCO. An earlier report from the CRP, The Power of Connected Data: Charting Student Pathways to and through Postsecondary in Hamilton, identified Grade 9 credit accumulation and secondary grades as strong determinants of graduation at both secondary and postsecondary levels. The latest report, Exploring the Relationship Between High School Math Achievement and PSE Pathways Using the CRP Dataset, explores how math achievement indicators relate to PSE access and success.

Prior to 2021, Ontario Grade 9 students had the option of taking Academic, Applied, Locally Developed or Open-level math courses. The report finds students in the Academic math stream graduate at a higher rate and are more likely to attend and succeed in PSE compared to students in non-Academic math. Unlike grades and standardized test scores, existing research suggests stream choice does more than merely indicate or predict PSE pathways, it can also depress achievement and effectually block pathways. The relationship between math stream and PSE attainment reinforces the importance of the Ontario government’s decision to destream Grade 9 math.

Indicators such as grades and EQAO performance are valuable tools to monitor system-level achievement and inform strategies for improving PSE access and success. While imperfect measures of system performance on their own, when combined with indicators like credit accumulation, grades and standardized test scores provide reliable information about students’ knowledge and skill development. The pandemic highlighted the need for well-rounded measures of system performance. While other jurisdictions continued documenting system-wide measures of student learning, Ontario suspended EQAO tests and instituted a freeze on grades. This has left Ontario without a clear understanding of how learning disruptions tied to the pandemic affected students.