The Ontario Court of Appeal has deemed that a math proficiency test for new teachers in Ontario is not unconstitutional despite a prior ruling suggesting the practice discriminated based on race.
This latest ruling overturned the 2021 Divisional Court decision, which found that the mandatory tests violated section 15 Charter right to equal protection under the law because preliminary data showed a disparity in outcomes between different racial groups.
The unanimous decision, released on Tuesday, countered the previous court’s view that the test disproportionately affected racialized educators.
The three-person panel, led by Justice Patrick Monahan, ruled that a divisional court was provided incomplete data initially used to assess the math proficiency tests introduced in Ontario in 2021. Monahan found that the Divisional Court erred when it decided the test for establishing discrimination had been met.
Candidates who failed the test were able to rewrite it an unlimited amount of times with no fee.
The court highlighted that over 90% of teacher candidates, including those from racialized groups, successfully passed the test, which assesses knowledge expected of high school graduates.
“Ontario’s Grade 9 math standard was introduced to assure parents that those responsible for educating students have the fundamental math skills they need to help students graduate,” said Ontario’s Education Minister Stephen Lecce.
To pass the test, candidates needed to score 70%. The test covered curriculum from elementary and secondary math classes, among other planning and assessment practices.
The original opposition to the proficiency test, led by the Ontario Teacher Candidates’ Council, raised concerns about racial disparities in pass rates.
Spokesperson Bella Lewkowicz voiced disappointment in the decision, arguing that the test was “unfair to racialized candidates, who have to write the test more than once to be equal to their non-racialized colleagues.”
However, the Court of Appeal noted that the disparity in pass rates had significantly decreased by the end of 2021. The court found no evidence suggesting that racialized candidates who wrote the test multiple times were at a disadvantage in entering the teaching profession.
Of the 8,349 candidates who wrote the test in 2021, 83.2% were successful on their first attempt. Of the 1,110 who retook the test, 88% were successful on a subsequent attempt. Therefore, 94.8% of people who wrote the test were successful, wrote the court in its decision. Racialized candidates had a success rate of 93.3%.
The Canadian Constitution Foundation (CCF), which intervened in the case, said in its press release that it was pleased with the court’s decision.
“We are pleased that the court has clarified that it is not racist to require teachers to be competent in basic math,” said Christine Van Geyn, CCF’s Litigation Director.
Ontario’s teacher unions have expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of a high-stakes math test for educators. They argue that the government’s efforts would be better directed toward enhancing the curriculum and offering more support to teachers rather than blaming them as a strategy for improving math outcomes.
The government does not intend to reinstate the test immediately, acknowledging that the appeal period has not passed.