AUDIO: Room for improvement in GTA elementary school grades
Updated elementary school rankings put together by the Fraser Institute show that 28 per cent of students are scoring below the provincial standard.
The annual report card is based on province-wide testing of reading, writing and math.
Some of the good news from the report is that several schools in Toronto got a perfect 10 score, including Seneca Hill, St Henry Catholic, Prince of Peace Catholic, and Pierre Elliot Trudeau Public.
The GTA average score of 6.6 is slightly higher than last year's 6.5.
TDSB schools scored 6.4, a slight decrease from 2012.
Some critics say the scores are a poor return on the government's investment of billions of dollars a year.
Annie Kidder with People for Education says reducing education to math, reading and writing scores is meaningless.
She says all across the world, grades on standardised tests do exactly they're doing in the GTA.
"Eventually, (the marks) get to a certain level and then they stay there," says Kidder.
She explains the so-called 'performance rating' of 6.6 represents "the percentage of kids who are getting approximately 'B' on the tests and it stays around where it is right now."
Kidder says for many students, their full potential cannot be reflected on these tests but she adds it is a valuable snapshot of how children are learning.
"Its the problem with looking at education like a business ... the return on the investment in education comes after a long time. Education is very, very expensive but the money comes back to us in our society at ten-fold later on in more taxpayers, lower healthcare costs, lower costs for the criminal justice system and social services," she says.
"We have to remember that its an investment that pays off in a generation, as opposed to a couple of years."
When it comes to ways to bump those test scores up, Doretta Wilson with the Society for Quality Education stresses a focus on kindergarten and Grade 1 classrooms.
She says the way bed-rock skills like phonics are learned make a big difference later in life.
Wilson adds changes need to happen in other classrooms, too.
"Teachers colleges don't really teach the hands-on craft of teaching, particularly fundamental skills like beginning Reading and beginning Math," she says.
Wilson says the ways up-and-coming teachers are taught fundamental skills are a weak spot in jurisdictions across North America, not just Ontario.
When it comes to what Wilson would change first in Ontario's primary curriculum, it would be a switch from teaching implicit phonics to explicit phonics.
It is a method of teaching reading that sees students learn the sounds that letters make first, then how to build words with them. The implicit method teaches the word first, and how sounds form the word.
"There's 50 years of evidence to show that (explicit phonics) is the most effective way to make sure that children can read," Wilson says.
For more information on how individual schools scored, go to the Fraser Institute's website.
(with files from James Moore)