Students doing better than PISA results suggest: Education ministers

Teresa Wright
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.E.I. Education Minister Alan McIsaac and CMEC Chair and Alberta Education Minister Jeff Johnson speak with reporters in Charlottetown. The Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC) wrapped up meetings in Charlottetown Wednesday

Business groups say low education test scores will hurt the economy, but education ministers are taking issue with the way the PISA test scores are being portrayed.

The Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC) met in Charlottetown Wednesday, and during a press conference following their meetings, stressed Canadian students are doing much better than some may believe.

CMEC Chair and Alberta Education Minister Jeff Johnson downplayed media coverage and reaction to Canada’s standings in 2013 PISA results.

“Even the OECD people who have done the study have told me personally Canada’s results are not statistically significant,” Johnson said.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report is an international standardized test of 15-year-olds that takes place every three years.

The latest results, released earlier this year, show Canada dropped in its math scores from 10th among OECD countries to 13th.

In all three testing areas of math, reading and science, P.E.I. students came in last in the country and below the average for OECD countries.

But education ministers said Wednesday they do not believe in overhauling their education systems as a result of one test.

Johnson said other assessments coming later this year will contradict the PISA results and show Canadian students are doing better than PISA would indicate.

“We’re trying to make the system better, but we’ve got to make very thoughtful decisions about this, and not just react to one international assessment,” Johnson said.

But groups that represent business both in P.E.I. and nationally say they’re concerned about the skill levels of students entering the workforce.

Ross Laver, vice president of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives said Wednesday other tests and assessments show Canadian university grads are not measuring up to their counterparts in other countries.

“This is a concern,” said Laver, whose organization members employ over 1.5 million Canadians.

“It matters to (employers) the quality of the labour force… we’re very concerned about the quality of Canada’s education system and a bit disturbed when people say ‘We’re not doing that badly.’ And that’s what I heard.”

Quebec scored the highest in Canada in the 2013 PISA results, especially in mathematics.

David Birnbaum, parliamentary secretary for the premier of Quebec, credited his province’s recent overhaul of its entire curriculum as a main reason for these successes.

“The province-wide curriculum was absolutely reconstructed from Grade 1 all the way up to the end of high school with a shift towards preparing students to think critically and to use inquiry, ask questions, work in groups,” Birnbaum explained.

“We’re teaching kids to learn.” 

He said Quebec also focused on getting teachers trained in specialty subjects, such as math and science.

P.E.I. Education Minister Alan McIsaac says P.E.I. is making some changes to help improve P.E.I. student outcomes, including adding three PD days to help train teachers to better teach math.

A random sample of P.E.I. teachers performed recently by the province found not one had a background or major in mathematics.

“That was a bit of a wakeup call with regards to the skills we have in math,” McIsaac said.

“That’s why we have to implement the proper PD, work with the university for our students coming in, we need to raise the bar in this area.”

He added more discussions would take place among education ministers and labour ministers this week to work to bridge the realities of Canada’s workforce needs with what students are being taught in classrooms.

Organizations: OECD, Council of Ministers of Education, Canadian Council of Chief Executives

Geographic location: Canada, P.E.I., Charlottetown Alberta Quebec

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Recent comments

  • Jill
    July 13, 2014 - 11:20

    Reform is necessary. Watch this!

  • Garth Staples
    July 10, 2014 - 12:50

    I was going to write the Minister is whistling in the dark but it would be more appropriate to say he is whistling the Dept's and Union's tune. I have taught elementary school in another province and at the 1st and 2nd year level in PEI. ALL my students from long ago at the Gr 5-6 levels could read and do math better than 30-40 percent of current Gr 12 graduates! I've seen it, experienced it. I operated several businesses in PEI employing dozens of employees and hundreds in the govt. Will senior civil servants and union reps admit the seriousness of the situation? Never. There are qualified people on PEI who can drag us out of this morass. Give them the lead.

  • wants to help
    July 10, 2014 - 10:10

    What about textbooks? Training aids? Homework consists of a single page of questions, but no where does a textbook come home explaining how to do it correctly, so the student, or parent, could go back and look at an example and walk through it to know they are doing it right, or wrong. And this is in elementary school. Plus, with only this single page coming home, you cannot go back and look though previous weeks information to help things along. You also cannot learn something doing it only once. Getting homework Monday and passing it in Thursday doesn't allow for practicing every night, when it is only a few questions. It also doesn't allow for learning from mistakes. Homework is passed in, if you missed the concept too late, new topic next Monday. This needs to change as well.

  • The View from Here
    July 10, 2014 - 08:50

    We elect people to represent us the will find solutions to the many problems that our society faces. The first thing that the minister of education need to acknowlegde is that there are significant problems in our current school system that needs to be addressed until that happens will anything change.?

  • don
    July 10, 2014 - 08:29

    minister what are you drinking or smoking? then tell us why students going into upei has to take more training to learn simple math etc that they should have learned in the first 12 years of school? tell if you can

  • Peter Llewellyn
    July 10, 2014 - 07:54

    OK -----I propose the 4 political leaders of PEI, the head of the chamber and 2 Mayors do their own check. Pick 3 grade 6 classes (Any School) one in Prince, Queens and Kings county, Arrange to hear each and every student from that class read a page from their science book. The class or student could be videotaped or done in a classroom setting with all or a couple of "Guests" sitting in the back of the class . Politician and educators must stop sticking their head in the sand or finding someone to blame if there is to be any help for children who are struggling. Lets put our Political leaders up front in finding a solution to this problem. If they can't agree that "Tests" actual test lets see if common sense exists in them when faced with a child who can't read the very text books meant to teach and guide them. Or they may find everything is great?

  • Island Boy
    July 10, 2014 - 07:22

    All the more reason to form a Study Council which DOES NOT include members of the professional apologizers (members of the Dept of Education and District Staff) to completely review the philosophy and bureaucracy presently in place. Overstaffed "senior leadership teams"(the new District staff identity). The problems are quick simple, we are teaching mathematics in primary grades when we should be teaching arithmetic to prepare for mathematics in later grades; bring back the Maclean writing system so pupils learn cursory before Grade 6; cease "social grading"; involve parents in homework and discipline. It is not by accident the Frendh Board wants to be "separate" their pupils are placed in the French system by involved parents; there are fewer "special needs" students in classes and the mathematics are based on the Quebec system. Finally, let teachers SPEAK not muzzle them with a Memorandum of Agreement or PEI TF.

  • Duhh
    July 10, 2014 - 05:36

    Maybe our students are spending too much time in class. We need more Teacher Development days, Good day socializing with other teachers could help our students. Maybe adding up golf scores would be a good math problem to present to students!

  • Nick
    July 10, 2014 - 01:58

    So, People at the OECD have told Mr. Johnson personally that the PISA "... results are not statistically significant,”. Is anybody at the OECD willing to put their name to it or are they just whispering in his ear things they are not saying publicly? Are they less significant now than when he was blaming the falling scores on Immigrants? I thought that Alberta was rat free?

  • George
    July 09, 2014 - 22:10

    Maybe instead of not replacing the aging teachers, you should replace them and ger rid of some of the staff at the school boards that do nothing all day.

    • don
      July 10, 2014 - 08:31

      better still get a government that has a brain? and that does not live at the fast food parking lots.

  • we need a new perspective
    July 09, 2014 - 21:47

    Where are the parents? When I was a kid, my parents went to every parent/teacher meeting, sat down with me to do my homework every night, read to me, took me to the library and made sure I was reading, and encouraged me to do well. When I didn't perform well in school, their first call was to the teacher. Not to b*tch her out, but to find out why I was struggling and to help me get through it. When I was in french immersion and my parents couldn't really help me, they got the neighbour up the road to come over and help. The responsibility was put on me 100%, and when they thought I was slacking, privileges were taken away until I pulled up my socks. My parents raised 5 kids that all pulled out 80s and 90s in high school, all went to university, and all have decent jobs---not because we are super smart or because our parents are super smart, but because we had to work from day one on. If we want kids to improve, it needs to start long before the child gets to grade one. Early intervention, more programs for parents, and more resources for parents that struggle with these things. Added to that, we need to put resources into school for kids in grade 1 onward and identify and deal with issues at the very start.

    • Nathale - a parent
      July 10, 2014 - 09:33

      The parents that care are still there. When I taught my child how to add and subtract with the normal algorithms that we were all taught and the teacher says "that's a short cut and we don't do it that way anymore"...what does a parent do? When I help my child with reading, having them read out loud every day and encourage them to sound out new words, only to have the teacher say that your child is struggling with reading because they are sounding out words. When asked what they want the kids to do, "guess from looking at the pictures!" Elementary school is no longer what it was when we 'parents' and adult population went to school. Elementary desks are arranged in groups of 4 kids and my kids have to be the policemen of their groups telling the other kids to stop talking and get back to work. When I ask my kids what did they do today and they tell me about the movie they watched and no homework ever comes home....really? Tell me, what should a parent do? Guess what? I'm teaching my kids how to do math after school, the right way and the right things. Not drawing circles with stars in it to do math! Did you know that addition, subtraction, multiplication and division of fractions is no longer taught in elementary school? I would encourage you to talk to some parents before you think that we all just want to 'b*tch' at the teachers.