Ministers say students doing better than international results suggest

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P.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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