TORONTO -- The best way to improve the math test scores of Ontario students is to better train teachers in the subject, Education Minister Liz Sandals said Wednesday as she announced a $4-million plan to help educators upgrade their skills.

The money will be used for partial subsides so teachers can take courses to improve their math skills and become better math teachers, added Sandals, who used to teach computer science at the University of Guelph.

"This investment will allow teachers to gain additional qualifications in math which will encourage more teachers to be specialists in math, particularly at the primary and junior level," she said.

Test results from Ontario's Education and Accountability Office show almost one in five Grade 6 students do not meet the provincial math standard, even after meeting the standard in Grade 3.

Only 57 per cent of Grade 6 students and 67 per cent of Grade 3 students met the provincial standard in math this year, but Sandals wasn't worried.

"Ontario students are actua

lly doing reasonably well in math," she said. "We're still one of the top jurisdictions in math in the world according to the results of the 2012 program for international student assessments, which is the tests run by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development."

Improving the Ontario math test results is critical, Sandals said after visiting students at Sprucecourt Public School in downtown Toronto, which went from below the provincial average to well above it in the past five years.

"We would like our EQAO results to be better, and quite frankly those are the ones that are actually more important to me than necessarily just the international results because they are based on the Ontario curriculum," she said.

The New Democrats gave the Liberals an "F for being asleep in class" and not taking action years ago to deal with falling math test scores.

"It's astounding that a government that says it is all about education has taken years to notice that our children are having trouble with math," said NDP critic Peter Tabuns. "Our students would be doing better if the Liberals learned from other provinces and provided more support to kids in the classroom."

The Progressive Conservatives accused the Liberals of pre-election campaigning.

"A $4-million government spending announcement that comes just months before a potential spring election is cynical politics at its worst," said PC education critic Rob Leone. "Parents have complained to me that their kids aren't learning the times tables anymore. We need to get back to basics."

Sandals said even though not all teachers have a degree in math, they can still learn how to become good math teachers.

"What you do need is training in how to teach math well to primary and junior students, so we're not suggesting that elementary teachers have to be like me and come equipped with a degree in math," she said.

New educators will also be given more instruction in how to teach math.

"The new two-year teacher education program gives us an opportunity with incoming teachers to make sure that they have more of their prep time focused on how to teach math properly," said Sandals. "Everybody needs math."

The province also has to do more to help parents better understand the math being taught to their kids and offer tips on how to assist with homework, she said.

"I think we really do need to do a better job of saying to parents: 'This is what your child's learning. This is how they're learning, and this is what you can do to help support that,"' said Sandals.

"We really do need to work with parents ... so they get what's going on."