Sask. reading, math, science scores below Canadian average but there are positive trends: study

Saskatchewan students are scoring better overall on tests in reading, math and science compared to international averages, according to a study of 79 nations. However, Saskatchewan tends to be below Canadian averages.

Every three years since 2000, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) evaluates 15-year-old students in Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nations.

The 2018 report, published Dec. 3, 2019, shows the average reading performance score for Saskatchewan students was 494, with a Canadian average at 520.

It’s the third-lowest average out of the provinces, ahead of Manitoba and New Brunswick.

The OECD average is 487, so Saskatchewan’s reading scores are still in the upper level globally. This is a good sign for the province’s education ministry.

“In our Education Sector Strategic Plan (ESSP), reading, writing, math is a strategic focus of our plan as we work with school divisions, teachers and directors of education to put forward a plan to make improvements in those three areas,” assistant deputy education minister Susan Nedelcov-Anderson said.

The ministry launched its ESSP in 2014 when it was decided to make standardized testing less of a priority.

Educators like Marc Spooner are also taking the PISA results with a grain of salt. Spooner is an education professor at the University of Regina who specializes in educational psychology and student assessment.

“Any time you’re looking at a standardized tests, it’s important to realize the best measure of student’s success in learning and how they’re doing in their learning is through the teachers. The teachers know, they assess students on a daily basis,” Spooner said.

Saskatchewan’s PISA results show declines in reading, math and science between 2012 and 2018. However, all three subject areas saw improvement compared to 2015.

“It wasn’t what we call a statistically significant jump, but they did go up which is important and speaks again to the power of teachers dealing with class complexity and really being committed to making it work,” Spooner said.

The PISA authors note that Canada’s overall performance is strong, but educators should be mindful of declines in reading scores, noting they have declined in many provinces since 2000.

Nedelcov-Anderson said the ministry has been tracking success in a learning resource sharing program, Saskatchewan Reads. A similar program is in the early phases of development for math.

“Typically with the reading resource that was created, it talked about effective practices in terms of instructional strategies that could be used in the classroom, effective assessment strategies that could be used in the classroom, and practical sets of lessons teachers can use,” Nedelcov-Anderson explained.

“So it’s something practical that teachers can use to assist with students that are either experiencing some difficulties or students that need more of a challenge too.”

In math, Saskatchewan student’s average scores are below the Canadian average, but at the OECD average. For science, Saskatchewan scores were just shy of the Canadian average and above the OECD average.

There is a correlation in the PISA study between test scores and the study’s rating of socioeconomic status.

Provinces with lower test scores, like Saskatchewan, Manitoba and New Brunswick were given lower socioeconomic scores by PISA.

The study says “the link between socio-economic status and student achievement is neither absolute nor automatic, and should not be overstated.”

However, Spooner disagrees with this statement.

“If you want to see test scores go up you’ve got to get rid of the inequity. When you bring the socioeconomic results up, when people do better on those indicators they’re going to do better in school. Point blank, that’s how it is,” Spooner said.

In Canada, approximately 22,500 students took part in PISA testing from 800 schools spread across the 10 provinces.

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