PISA Results: Canadian Students Score High in Performance, Canadian Education System Scores High in Equity

The results of the Programme for International Assessment (PISA) 2009 were released today at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education in Toronto. This report, which measures the “quality, efficiency and equity” of education in sixty-five countries and economies, is issued by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), in conjunction with the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada and Statistics Canada. This international assessment ranks Canadian students in three domains: reading, math and science. Each PISA assessment has a major domain and two minor domains. In 2009, reading was the major domain assessed, defined as “understanding, using, reflecting on and engaging with written text, in order to achieve one’s goals, to develop one’s knowledge and potential, and to participate in society.”

“Measuring up: Canadian Results of the OECD PISA Study” is the first of two reports that provides pan-Canadian results from the PISA 2009 report and provides a more detailed analysis at the provincial level.

Highlights of both the international report and Canadian report include:

  • Canadian students continue to be leaders in reading, math and science.
  • Canadian students perform well in a global context in reading. On the combined reading scale, only four countries surpassed Canada: Shanghai-China, Korea, Finland and Hong Kong-China.
  • Nine of the Canadian provinces performed at or above the OECD average on the combined reading scale.
  • There was no significant change in Canadian mean performance in reading from 2000 and 2009. However, only one country outperformed Canada in reading in 2000, while three countries outperform Canada in 2009 (meaning the relative performance decreased).
  • While the Canadian average performance in reading is not significantly different from 2000 to 2009, the proportion of high and low achievers in reading has shifted resulting in a decrease of high-achieving readers.
  • Students in minority-language school systems had lower reading performance than students in majority-language school systems. In five provinces (NS, NB, ON, AB, BC) students in the English-language school systems outperformed students in the French language school systems on the combined reading scale. In Manitoba and Quebec, differences were not statistically significant.
  • The overall performance of Canadian students in math and science are well above the OECD average and remain unchanged from previous PISA results. Canada is outperformed only by seven countries in math and six countries in science.
  • The Canadian gender gap: females outperform males in reading, while males outperformed females in math and science.
  • Equity, a measure of how well a country can maximize its students’ potential, was ranked as extremely high in Canada. The combination of high PISA scores with high equity demonstrates that there is a small gap between highest and lowest performing students.

It is clear that Canada remains a leader in all three domains and has maintained its competencies in reading from 2000 to 2009. However, other countries are improving at a fast rate, resulting in a decline in the relative ranking for Canada from 2000 to 2009. Possible reasons for this decline are cited in the report as: a result of increases in other countries’ performance, the addition of countries new to PISA 2009 that were not previously included, and a decrease in the number of Canadian high-achievers in reading between 2000 and 2009.

It was noted that Canada is “well-positioned, but we can’t afford to be complacent.” Indeed, further investigation and analysis of similarly-structured educational systems of the top-performing countries is needed to ensure that Canadian students develop the skills necessary to become global leaders of the 21st century.  The OECD and the Pearson Foundation have already begun this investigation; a documentary series on “Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education” explores policies and best practices of top performing education systems.

A second report that analyzes the factors associated with student performance will be published in the Spring.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *