PISA test results demonstrate need for more investments

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P.E.I. students score last in country; province singled out as below average

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Education is one area where this province cannot afford to cut corners in providing every learning opportunity possible for our children. So it was disappointing to see the low test results by Prince Edward Island students in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) released last week.

Island Grade 10 students scored last in the country and the province was singled out for coming in below average in all three areas of testing. We are assured that P.E.I. offers basically the same curriculum as eight other provinces and it’s hard to believe that assignments or tests are easier here than for students in other provinces. Yet P.E.I. was the only province whose score was below average. In all three testing areas of math, reading and science, P.E.I. students came in last in the country.

PISA results show P.E.I. students have been steadily declining in math scores for the last six years. For both reading and science, Island students again were the only ones in Canada to score below the international average.

Everyone is quick to point fingers and assess blame. Perhaps before the accusations get too heated, let’s take into consideration there are some 1,200 young Islanders who are 15 years old and feeling they let the province down and are somewhat embarrassed they didn’t perform better. Let’s support them instead of playing the blame game.

The Opposition says the results are highly concerning and should raise alarms that more needs to be done for P.E.I. students. No one is questioning that but it’s impossible to put a finger on any one area or reason for the poor results. The Opposition points to fewer teaching positions, larger class sizes and a shortage of school psychologists as additional reasons why students are struggling.

The province has made a number of investments in early childhood development programs, has brought kindergarten into the school system and added in literacy and numeracy coaches in elementary schools. Those investments are starting to show results from kindergarten into Grade 3, as demonstrated by recent provincial test results.

As those students progress through the system, and as long as improvements continue to be made from grade to grade, they should bring better results to future PISA testing which are done every three years. Premier Robert Ghiz said he believes targeting the problem areas identified by the PISA results and more professional development (PD) days for teachers are the way to go.  Let’s remember that teachers face more and more non-classroom demands. They have to feed students, be drug counsellors, be on the outlook for bullies or drug abuse, and deal more and more with special needs students.

The province promises there are investments it can make to improve things in the future and better focus resources on kids on the classroom. But just what are other provinces doing differently where students scored better in PISA testing, especially in Quebec where students scored among the tops in Canada and internationally? And can those methods be incorporated into P.E.I. classrooms?

The P.E.I. Green Party sees the PISA results as an opportunity to make bold changes in the education field. “We live in a world that is changing at breakneck speed. We need to question whether the educational goals and methods of even a decade ago are still relevant today,” says Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker. He says many countries are moving to knowledge-based economies where the modern education system needs to value independent thinking and creativity on a par with literacy and numeracy. It’s certainly worth exploring.

Organizations: P.E.I. Green Party

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, Canada, Quebec

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  • Politics can impede or enable pedagogy.
    December 10, 2013 - 06:12

    Important questions neither Minister McIsaac nor education critic James Aylward have asked: 1) Of teachers presently teaching math/science, how many have degrees or even a successful major in those disciplines? This data should be easy to gather. And, it's important to gather, especially about teachers at the early levels where basic math/science attitudes and skills are nurtured. 2) With respect to mathematics/science, what academic qualifications must our math teachers have to teach the subject matter; is there a standard? 3) When did our math/science teachers receive their formal academic math training? 4) And, here's the most important question: How is the math/science proficiency of our teachers measured and reported? After all, if testing is a fair and useful way to find out what people know, why can't teachers also be tested to find out what they know? What Minister McIsaac will say is something like, "Our teachers are being constantly trained and upgraded . . ." which is a totally useless response because there's no way to know how much of that "workshop" training actually sticks (see question #4). The bottom line is that, factually, the math knowledge and math delivery skills of our teachers remains unknown. It's not counting that's the problem, it's accountability. This is not to blame or shame our teachers - if there is a gap, we have to address it. If not, we move on to other challenges. The odd thing is that for our French Immersion teachers, some of these questions are answered - there are skill standards, the subject matter skills of F.I. teachers are tested, and the Teachers' Federation and Dept. of Education support these accountability measures. However, until those in authority and address this challenge for our Math/Science teachers, too many questions will remain unanswered.

  • Rob McEachern
    December 09, 2013 - 13:13

    I do not agree that the students feel they let the Province down at all, rather they feel the Province has let them down. The Province has failed in developing or teaching the students. There is no blame game, lets get serious and honest about who is failing the students.

  • Garth Staples
    December 09, 2013 - 12:36

    We all know the problem. it is not the kids. It is not the classroom teachers. It is the denzien controllers in the Dept and the Teachers Union. The Minister is being held captive of narrow and stubborn thought process. Meanwhile classroom teachers, students , parents and employers are being cheated by a select few with agendas.

    • nitpicker
      December 09, 2013 - 18:49

      who are the select few and what are their agendas? There's a secret society whose missions is to keep student's scores low? We've underperformed for years. Under successive governments. So anyone with an answer should speak up.