Poor student test scores hurting P.E.I. economy: chamber

Teresa Wright
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Rory Francis, from left, board member, Quentin Bevan, president of the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce, and board member Steve Loggie tell the provincial education committee that P.E.I. businesses are very concerned over poor student test scores.

The Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce is raising serious concern over Prince Edward Island’s poor education test scores, saying they are hurting the Island’s economy.

The chamber is calling on government to stop the erosion of the P.E.I. school curriculum, end social promotion of students who are struggling and do more to improve education outcomes, especially in math.

“The business community is extremely concerned,” said Rory Francis, a chamber board member.

The chamber was one of several presenters Tuesday to the provincial Standing Committee on Education and Innovation, which is holding hearings on the state of education in P.E.I.

A recent survey of its business membership found employers in P.E.I. identified skills shortages as the number one barrier to competitiveness.

Quentin Bevan, president of the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce, explained employers in P.E.I. are seeing young workers who can’t make change without a cash register, do not have the math skills required for measuring and cutting in construction and who cannot read cursive writing.

“By not properly preparing students for what the realities of the workforce are, we feel this is seriously affecting their career opportunities and also the growth of our economy.”

P.E.I. students scored last in the country and the province was repeatedly highlighted in the 2013 PISA results for coming in below the OECD average in all three areas of testing of reading, science and math.

The chamber says this is a concerning ongoing trend for the province, pointing out P.E.I. has scored last in the country in PISA results for the last 14 years.

Education outcomes are not only important for preparing Islanders for the workforce, but also in attracting immigrants and professionals from other jurisdictions to the province, the chamber board members said.

Often the quality of P.E.I.’s education system is one of the first things potential newcomers look at when considering relocating, and the Island’s poor scores are impeding those efforts.

“We must view these PISA results as a call to action. We can do better and we must do better,” said chamber board member Steve Loggie.

“We’ve had conversations with folks in the system that said instead of pushing up in terms of our attention on math, we’re actually bringing the curriculum down to meet where the students are,” Francis added.

“This is totally a negative spiral that we’re going into… rather than improving our ability to compete and achieve we’re lowering the bar.”

They presented recommendations, including hiring only teachers with math or science backgrounds, increasing time-on-task in the classroom and ending the school system’s social promotion policy.

The chamber also suggested government should immediately establish a working group to engage parents, teachers and other stakeholders to work together in making much-needed improvements.

The education committee also heard Tuesday from the P.E.I. Literacy Alliance who also raised concern over an ever-increasing demand on its summer tutoring program at a time it is also facing a major cut its core funding by the federal government.

“Here we have one of the lowest literacy levels in Canada, with many of our citizens — approximately 25 per cent — unable to read a newspaper with understanding,” said Catherine O’Brien, executive director of the P.E.I. Literacy Alliance.

“I think we need a culture of literacy in P.E.I., a literacy policy would be a good start.”

But the low scores identified in the PISA results do not represent all of P.E.I. students, according to the superintendent of P.E.I.’s French Language School Board. Anne Bernard-Bourgeois says she requested the results from students in her board be severed from the other P.E.I. PISA results, as she is convinced they would show French students have better outcomes, especially in math.

“Because we are a small sample size PISA said they won’t take our sample size apart, but I was very impressed with those,” Bernard-Bourgeois said.

Instead of the oversized class sizes and cuts to education resources currently happening in the English Language School Board, the French school board is struggling to recruit more students into its schools.

“There’s lots of room for growth,” Bernard-Bourgeois said.

The education committee will compile a report complete with recommendations for government, which it will present during the fall session of the legislature.

twright@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/GuardianTeresa

Organizations: Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce, P.E.I. school, Standing Committee on Education OECD P.E.I. Literacy Alliance French Language School Board English Language School Board

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, Canada

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Recent comments

  • hi Expat
    July 10, 2014 - 14:52

    EXPATISLANDER..........where do you get your stats? All of us know of plenty of blue collar families who produce quality children who go on to lead and do very well. You sound a tad snobby, whether meaning to or not. Many we know have moved away and are chartered accountants, doctors, nurses, directors, politicians, etc. AND came from humble beginnings. We also have seen families lead by professionals whose children do not fare as well. Some times we succeed by money, luck of the draw, opportunities, connections, luck, hard work, treachery, sociopathic behaviors etc. But I doubt it is just professional parents who yield professional offspring. Really.

    • ExpatIslander
      July 11, 2014 - 12:36

      I didn't mean to imply that blue collar parents don't raise high achieving kids. I would consider my own upbringing fairly modest. Sorry if I came off as snobby. All I meant to suggest is that the brain drain effects PEI`s relative standing in comparison to other provinces by removing a large number of advantaged kids from the mix. Like many PEI stats the small sample size is easily skewed.. http://www.apa.org/pi/ses/resources/publications/factsheet-education.aspx

  • David A. McGregor
    July 09, 2014 - 20:31

    Reality is Starting to Bite After reading the recent story about the problems in the education system, I had to sit and laugh. Most businesses pay there employees peasants' wages, do not want to give any benefits and fight like dogs to lower taxes. What did you think was going to happen? Instead of using my own words, I think the late and great George Carlin summed it up a few years ago: “….there’s a reason education SUCKS, and it’s the same reason it will never, ever, EVER be fixed. It’s never going to get any better, don’t look for it. Be happy with what you’ve got. Because the owners, the owners of this province, don’t want that. I’m talking about the real owners now, the BIG owners! The Wealthy… the REAL owners! The big wealthy business interests that control things and make all the important decisions. Forget the politicians. They are irrelevant. The politicians are put there to give you the idea that you have freedom of choice. You don’t. You have no choice! You have OWNERS! They OWN YOU. They own everything. They own all the important land. They own and control the corporations... They got you by the balls. They spend millions of dollars every year lobbying, lobbying, to get what they want. Well, we know what they want. They want more for themselves and less for everybody else, but I’ll tell you what they don’t want: They don’t want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking. They don’t want well-informed, well-educated people capable of critical thinking. They’re not interested in that. That doesn’t help them. That’s against their interests. That’s right. They don’t want people who are smart enough to sit around a kitchen table and think about how badly they’re getting screwed by a system that threw them overboard 30 years ago. They don’t want that! You know what they want? They want obedient workers. Obedient workers, people who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork. And just dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly soul-sucking jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours, the reduced benefits, the end of overtime and vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it... They’ll get it. They’ll get it all from you sooner or later ‘cause they own this place! It’s a big club, and you ain’t in it! You, and I, are not in the big club. .. The table has tilted, folks. The game is rigged and nobody seems to notice. Nobody seems to care! Good honest hard-working people; white collar, blue collar it doesn’t matter what color shirt you have on. Good honest hard-working people continue—these are people of modest means—continue to elect these rich guys who don’t give a darn about you… They don’t care about you at all… at all… AT ALL. And nobody seems to notice. Nobody seems to care. That’s what the owners count on. The fact that Islanders will probably remain willfully ignorant... because the owners of this province know the truth. It’s called the Island Dream—because you have to be asleep to believe it.

    • How It Is
      July 09, 2014 - 21:29

      In a word, complacency.

  • Change is Hard
    July 09, 2014 - 16:50

    When did the people of this beautiful little province decide to throw in the towel? When did we decide to focus on who's to blame for our various situations as opposed to helping to build and shape a better place for us all? When did we decide it was more important to chase the big bucks in Alberta rather than help build a stronger PEI? When did we decide that all of these things we gripe and moan about are separate issues and not connected in a fundamental way? Things will only get better once all Islanders agree that: a. things will stay the same as long as we resist change b. change is hard but worth it in the long run c. the economy of PEI is extremely important d. a skilled and educated population eventually leads to economic growth e. economic growth leads to better opportunities and higher wages f. change will take time and require patience. I realize this is a tough sell during an era of consumption and entitlement. But we are proud people with big hearts who don't like to go down without a fight. Who's ready to fight?

  • Change
    July 09, 2014 - 15:43

    Really............why 2 mths off in Summer when most of the kids are saying they are bored after 2 weeks. Missing many days by winter storms? How about a month of holidays in Winter then plus save on heating costs too. Maybe it is time to rethink the long summer drought of learning. Cut the Summer holiday down more, or divide between Winter and Summer. But personally it probably is too long a time away from school.

  • ExpatIslander
    July 09, 2014 - 14:01

    Children who come from households headed by parents who have a university education or equivalent tend to perform better than children from housholds which are not. A great number, in fact I'm willing to say the majority of such parents leave PEI because they cannot find decent jobs at home. PEI biggest export is not potatoes it's educated people. Reinvest in education and more importantly allow educated Islanders to remain in the province and the perceived benefits of a good education as well as educational achievement will rise!

    • Dave
      July 10, 2014 - 15:42

      My employer recruits annually on PEI. He is a really nice guy, and came to me once to talk. He was really upset and felt guilty. He said, he feels guilty that he was taking the best and most promising graduates away from PEI, and felt that was stifling the province's future. I told him not to worry, the people applying don't have the right last name, and will never get a good job on PEI anyway.

  • reality
    July 09, 2014 - 13:45

    ~SUPPORT OUR STUDENTS AND TEACHERS ~ARE THEY sulking because they lost their cheap tfw source ---funny that tfw's were great for pei but it is the poorly educated island student that is bringing things down

  • mad as hell
    July 09, 2014 - 12:54

    I keep hearing of newer and newer methods of teaching and dealing with kids. At the same time I keep hearing of worse and worse results. Time to go back to what worked.

  • Observer
    July 09, 2014 - 12:27

    It is good to see some print outlining the problems associated with present state of the education system on PEI; which relies on social promotion instead of accurate assessment and placing of students in the correct grade levels. It took several PISA trials to show that PEI students finished dead last in Canada. It is sad to hear that PEI students are a grade and a half behind the students in Quebec in mathematics, science and literacy. Provincial governments have been afraid to offend the PEITF; which is against all assessments that may reflect poorly on their teachers. Instead; the PEITF will criticize the PISA assessment tool, it's student selection process, and how it does not contain the proper test questions for PEI students to correctly answer. It should be easy to model the curriculum and teaching practices in the Canadian provinces such as Alberta and Quebec that have regularly finished near the top on PISA assessments, and apply them to PEI students. It will also take some standardized assessment to ensure that the curriculum objectives are covered in the classroom by teachers; something again, that the PEITF would be DEAD against!!!!

  • from away
    July 09, 2014 - 11:33

    Thank you Chamber of Commerce for speaking up about the sad state of education on PEI. My spouse and I both have an extensive background in university math and science. We have long been concerned about the low standards and lack of rigorous math curriculum since we moved here from another province. We are viewed by some as the 'mean' parents as we have heavily supplemented our children's math education with extra work, as well as summer math. Teachers think our kids are brilliant, (they are not), but our kids do have parents who have invested time and money to ensure that they are not damaged by PEI's deteriorating education system. Radical actions must be taken to save it, although I doubt there is the political will. I am relieved that our youngest children are in high school and will soon be off of this sinking ship. Parents...its up to you at this point to ensure your children are getting what they need academically. You dont need a strong math background to help your kids. There are a lot of free resources online such as khanacademy.org that can help provide the heavy supplementation they need.

    • reality
      July 09, 2014 - 12:14

      obviously , your program doesn't attract the many, many excellent students from pei !!!

  • Mike Kays
    July 09, 2014 - 11:10

    Anyone that thinks the problem lies in the education system needs an education. This goes way deeper than that. We can drop buckets of money into education but the root is in capitalism, and social perception. Sorry to bring you all into harsh reality. This will never be fixed unless we stop being a consumer driven culture.

  • roberta
    July 09, 2014 - 09:37

    Great to see education getting some long overdue attention. I was struck by a comment by the superintendent of the French School Board. "the French School Board IS STRUGGLING TO RECRUIT MORE STUDENTS INTO ITS SCHOOLS." Was it not the reason for these separate French Schoolboards and French schools to be set up to address the rights of the French minority to an education in their OWN language, if they so chose, WHERE NUMBERS warrant it ? (I believe those were the words of the judge, at the time.) So does this 'struggle' arise from not enough French speaking people with kids, who choose this route, or not a large enough minority to fill them ? Has this 'right' now morphed into competition for pupils, (recruitment from the English majority)? Interesting results of legal interpretations of '"rights", where politically no man dare to tread, and apparently not society either, even if it infringes on the majority's right to adherence to agreements, laws and rules.

  • Come On
    July 09, 2014 - 09:24

    Let's call a spade a spade . our teachers are not doing their job very well . We have let the quality of teachers be set by the unions & not their performance as it should be . All teachers are not the same & shouldn't be treated the same . A province our size should be at the top of the list , not the bottom . Example is the professors at UPEI who should have been gone years ago . Do away with seniority & tenure . Only provide a job for a teacher that succeeds in getting her students to the grade they should be at . Stop holding back the bright kids so the slower learners can stay up with them . Bring back the pass - fail system with marks not the muddy system we use now . Childern are not all equal when it comes to school & someone that really wants to achieve shouldn't be deprived of reward just because there is some who can't or just don't care, that you people think will have their feelings hurt if left behind until they achieve the level required to advance on . I have a grand son that doesn't care & never should been passed until he learned . He is being taught there isn't any cost to not achieving . That's not fair to him or the other students that do well . Pass or fail with % marks is the way to correct this problem . If you fail , you pay the price of repeating the grade again .

    • onlooker
      July 09, 2014 - 16:15

      To "Come On", although I do agree with some of your comments as teachers are not all the same quality nor do the students all learn at the same rate. (we have experienced both) We have to realize that the teachers today have their challenges such as broken families /drugs/ alcohol/ parents who don't make their children take responsibility for their own choices. All this under the watchful eye of the government who continues to take away resources and positions. I feel in a lot of cases these teachers are forced to be more like Social Workers than Instructors. A side note to Suzy Q - My husband and I probably had a little less than the "average income" but we seemed to be able to raise 3 university students all going for their 2nd + degrees. So I do have to wonder about your research.

    • Wrong
      July 09, 2014 - 16:21

      The teachers are hired by who the principal likes.

  • Let's be relevant
    July 09, 2014 - 09:10

    Just a small example of what I think ails our education system - last night our 13 year old daughter (grade 8) asked some questions about Nova Scotia. I asked her what the capital of Nova Scotia is. She did not know! I asked why she didn't remember that from geography class. She said, "Dad, we didn't learn about that, we learned about Egypt and ancient Egypt at that. I can tell you what the ancient Egyptians ate and what they wore." My reaction was that will come in handy when you go to university and are trying to find Dalhousie.

  • grand-parent
    July 09, 2014 - 09:05

    Good to see the business community involved, especially since that segment of society seems to have the ear of this particular government. Recently it has appeared that the Teacher's Federation is more interested in politics than education. That said, the teachers of today face a challenge far greater than before due to the indulgence children are receiving from their parents today. This evolution in society as a whole is part of the problem, as it spills over to the system, where it is seen as easier to promote the children on through the grades rather than address the real problem. I urge parents to take a look at themselves and improve their methods of parenting, and bring a decent product to the schools. Then confront the 'system' and DEMAND better results. This will take the effort of everybody and it will take time, - so get on with it.

  • and..
    July 09, 2014 - 08:50

    Keep cutting teachers, EAs, support staff. Keep cutting funding to schools. Keep increasing students:teacher ratios. It will all get better in time...

  • questioner
    July 09, 2014 - 08:41

    If it is true , as Bernard-Bourgeois implies, that the French system is getting better test results, than the English system, could this be because they are getting more resources pr. student than the English system? If so the answer is not to siphon off more students and resources, but instead to increase resources to the English system, perhaps even by sharing from the French system. It would fly in the face of reason if students in a school graduating 3 high school students, such as E'cole Pierre-Chiasson just did, did not do well on tests, - with a 3 to 1 ratio. There is no rime or reason to the way these 'rights' have evolved. Even ardent French rights advocates cannot truthfully deny this has created inequality in the two systems.

  • THE REAL SUBJECT
    July 09, 2014 - 08:26

    It appears in every article that people don't like to deal with, comments immediately change the topic. The topic here is that people are not getting an education. They are getting graduation diplomas which are useless when they cannot read them. The comments here range from blaming the Federal Government, to blaming the people that got a proper education. This system will not change until this province drops the program of graduating students just because they ATTEND. If a student is having difficulty understanding then what is the purpose of pushing them to the next level where their problems are multiplied. It is so obvious when you see grade 12 graduates that cannot make change, fill out a job application, or write a simple sentence. The system needs immediate changing and the PEI way of blaming everyone else for everything that goes wrong must also change and responsibility must be placed where it belongs. Make the education system to educate students not a place to keep them while their parent work.

  • The View from Here
    July 09, 2014 - 08:21

    While I agree we need to pay higher wages, we must remember that we now compete in a global community. The food and products we produce are competing with contries with lower wages and less government red tape. We owe it to our children to make sure that the education they receive is the very best to equip them to compete for work in a global envirnoment. We elect people to make sure the education our tax dollars funds provides the very best. With that lattest test scores one can only conclude that we need to move education in a different direction.

  • The View from Here
    July 09, 2014 - 08:20

    While I agree we need to pay higher wages, we must remember that we now compete in a global community. The food and products we produce are competing with contries with lower wages and less government red tape. We owe it to our children to make sure that the education they receive is the very best to equip them to compete for work in a global envirnoment. We elect people to make sure the education our tax dollars funds provides the very best. With that lattest test scores one can only conclude that we need to move education in a different direction.

  • Suzy Q
    July 09, 2014 - 07:47

    Why is it that no one has made the direct link between average household income and educational results? It's a fairly good predictor of results. Increase average household income and test results rise. Check the research.

  • voter
    July 09, 2014 - 07:22

    did i read that correctly ?/ the greater Ch'town group tries to speak for ALL island business ??????????????????????????

  • Jr
    July 09, 2014 - 07:01

    Its not just PEI's education system that needs to be revamped, it the Canadian education system that needs to be revamped. Oh, I forgot Canada doesn't have any kind of federal education system, unlike most of the other industrialized nations. Instead each province is going off in their own direction with education which is how we got ourselves into this mess.

    • voter
      July 09, 2014 - 10:25

      I SUPPORT STUDENTS AND TEACHERS ---You are quite correct !!!!---- Regional teaching guidelines and national test results will not give accurate results !!! But ---ITS A GREAT WAY TO PAY TEACHERS LESS AND FOR BUSINESS TO PAY LESS TO THEIR "NATIONALLY TESTED" EMPLOYEES -- - anything to make more profit on the backs of workers ---- You people should be ashamed for not supporting teachers and students in the face of a bad national testing- ~~~~~~sympathies to those of you who think capitals should only be used in titles , headlines , proper nouns etc --!!!!

  • island way
    July 09, 2014 - 06:44

    Tourist like to see us folksy and friendly with a grade 10 education. So we must continue to support tourism by not becoming a bunch of over edubucated nerds.

  • Hello?
    July 09, 2014 - 06:39

    @reality.....nobody listens to capslock-caped-crusaders. Particularly when they make claims that are poorly articulated and without substance. With regards to the education system as a whole I believe the Chamber of Commerce is correct, in that the current system supports lower performance rather than encouraging stronger mathematical and linguistic skills. That is my opinion as a company manager, sessional teacher and father. Growing up in another province I can personally attest that the level of education my children in PEI is receive is far below that in other provinces. I would love to see this report by the Education Committee suggest immediate changes, not additional studies of the problem. I believe that any change to strengthen the curriculum is a move in the right direction.

    • reality
      July 09, 2014 - 10:11

      THANK YOU FOR BRINGING ATTENTION TO MY VALID POINTS - KNEW THERE WOULD BE BIAS OUT THERE I COULD COUNT ON-YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR -- p.s. -caps are easier to read

  • Island Boy
    July 09, 2014 - 06:33

    Finally, it looks like "the door is opening" and we start hearing from Islanders affected by the closed structure called "education". It is about time the real "stake holders" take over, drop the professional paper collectors and over stocked bureaucracy called District; reformed the self serving Executive of PEI TF and ,for once supported teachers and listened to their views. House cleaning time both for Dept of Education and PEI TF!

  • don
    July 09, 2014 - 06:29

    do you really think ghiz and his gang really cares about our kids learning? his kids will go to a private school.just wait till he starts closing schools. and to protect his butt he can use the lawyers office for the closures. it just proves what i have been saying the older generation learned better and more then the today's kids as we had better teachers and you all can whine and say i am wrong but it has been proven by the scores.be proud liberal voters you whine about our kids learning but yet you vote for ghiz two faced islanders better known as COWARDS.

  • The View From Here
    July 09, 2014 - 06:07

    Although I do agree people should be paid more on PEI. We must not loose sight of the fact that our students deserve a quality education. Our elected officials should be making quality education a priority. Unfortunately many of our discussions on critical issues are based on electability, this is the only time government is concerned about the math. If we don't make significant changes to our educational system then we can only expect the same results in the future.

  • reality
    July 09, 2014 - 05:11

    There are a lot of very smart people on this island that won't work for the peanuts this business group pays--------THE BUSINESS GROUP DOES NOT PAY ENOUGH TO GET THE BEST - THEY GET WHAT THEY PAY FOR - THEY INTERVIEW THEM - THEN THEY HIRE THEM -THEN THEY EXPECT SOMETHING FOR NOTHING !!!!

    • Truth Seeker
      Truth Seeker
      July 09, 2014 - 09:14

      Exactly! I had one employer refuse to pay what I had rightfully earned under my pay structure because my education didn't reflect the money I was earning. The 5% here do not like sharing the wealth and social status with us common folk.