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A False Sense of Security

A False Sense of Security
December 15, 2009 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 08:31 PM

We wish we had a big nickel for every time a defender of the Ontario status quo bragged that Canada has the second-best education system in the world. This is, of course, a reference to the 2005 PISA tests. But test results are never black and white, and the PISA tests are particularly gray.

The 2005 PISA test looked at three subjects - science, math, and reading. Several Canadian provinces participated as separate jurisdictions, and their results were averaged together to yield a score for Canada. As a country, Canada ranked 2nd in reading, 5th in science, and 6th in math. In the Canadian context, Ontario's results were not particularly stellar: in science and math, Ontario ranked below Alberta and BC, and in reading, Ontario ranked below Alberta, BC, and Quebec. Furthermore, many of the Asian tigers, like China, Singapore, India, and Korea, chose not to participate in the PISA. 

In addition, as Jay Mathews points out, the PISA tests do not measure what students learn in school, but rather how well students are prepared "to meet the challenges of the future". PISA focuses on skills like estimating and interpreting as opposed to the ability to carry out advanced mathematical calculations, and the ability to get the gist of a passage as opposed to being able to spell words correctly or even get the right answers. The nature of the PISA tests means they neutralize much of the superiority of students with advanced skills and knowledge. It's as if the Canadian kids were in a figure skating competition that tested only the ability to do bunny hops. Well, the Canadian kids have been doing bunny hops for years, and they are still doing them all the time, and so they can do them perfectly. Some of the other kids from other countries are very fine skaters, but they're a bit rusty at bunny hops because they haven't done them for a very long time. They can do them of course, because bunny hops are very easy, but just at first they look kind of rusty and awkward. As a result, the Canadian kids do fairly well in the contest. Of course, it would be a different story if the competition were based on the ability to do triple axels and forward camels!

If we want to know how well Canadian students are prepared in terms of more difficult material, we must look at other international tests, such as the TIMSS or the PIRL. Ontario ranks roughly in the middle of the countries that choose to participate in these tests. It is important for Canada's future that we not be lulled into a false sense of security by our good results on the PISA.

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As usual the champions of the status-quo pull one over on an unsuspecting nation. Hey, but we’re building a nation of youngsters less likely to question authority and “the experts” than in the “olden days”. Instead we are churning out graduates nourished on a steady diet of character development. I guess that prepares them for keeping that stiff upper lip when they don’t get that job or drop out of post-secondary.

Posted by fools-R-us on 12/16 at 11:07 AM

StatsCan, Canada graduates more students as a % of their cohort with a post secondary education than any nation on Earth. Is first place good enough. No because three countries graduate more fom university than we do, USA, Japan and Ireland. We should not rest until we are first in this as well. We are doing well since we are 46th in education spending in North America. Every province except the Atlantic province spends more. Almost every American state spends more. If we want to be #1, and I do we need to really open up the taps and start really spending on education. Much smaller classes, much earlier ECE, better wages and much more for our highly underfunded post secondary including the elimination of tuition fees. Lets really try to make Ontario #1.

Posted by Doug Little on 12/23 at 12:26 AM

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