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Poor showing for Manitoba students in OECD report

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It’s not good news for Manitoba students.

Our students are below average in mathematics compared to students throughout the industrialized world.

Manitoba kids are better than average worldwide in reading and science — fairly significantly in reading, not by much in science — but within Canada, we’re almost the bottom among provinces.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development released the results of its both eagerly awaited and dreaded 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) testing this morning in Paris.

OECD conducts the tests in math, reading and science every three years among 510,000 students aged 15 who OCED says are selected randomly to represent 28 million students that age in 65 countries and economies.

In OECD’s measuring system, Manitoba scores 492 on math, below the 494 mean score of all participants.

Four city-state economies are among the top-ranked in all categories — Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Macau. Tiny Lichtenstein also did well, as did Taiwan.

Among larger countries, Korea was tops in math, Japan in reading and science.

Compared only to larger countries, Canada ranked seventh in math, fourth in reading and fifth in science.

Canada ranked 13th in math, tied for seventh in reading, and tied for 10th in science among all 65.

The detailed report takes up 564 pages, though in each round of tests OECD puts extra focus on one subject. This year, it was mathematics.

Canada’s rankings are generally close to where we’ve been since OECD started testing in 2000. However, OECD did not list Canada among countries and economies who have increased their scores since the millennium.

Meanwhile, Manitoba was in the middle of the Canadian pack six years ago, dropped almost to the bottom last time around and failed to bounce back this time.

Only Prince Edward Island trails Manitoba in reading and science and only PEI and Newfoundland-Labrador are below us in math skills.

As in previous PISA tests, when proficiency in math is broken down into several levels, Manitoba has the most students in Canada in the lowest level of achievement and the fewest in the highest level of achievement.

On a world level, Manitoba could argue our kids’ scores still do well — better than the scores for the United Kingdom, United States, Russia, Sweden, Spain, Italy and Brazil.

You can read the enormous report at http://www.oecd.org/pisa/.

Here are some of the conclusions OECD reached:

❚ Some education systems have demonstrated it is possible to secure strong and equitable learning outcomes at the same time as achieving rapid improvements. Of the 13 countries and economies that significantly improved their mathematics performance between 2003 and 2012, three also show improvements in equity in education during the same period, and another nine improved their performance while maintaining an already high level of equity — proving countries do not have to sacrifice high performance to achieve equity in education opportunities.

❚ Nonetheless, PISA 2012 results show wide differences between countries in mathematics performance. The equivalent of almost six years of schooling, 245 score points, separates the highest and lowest average performances of the countries that took part in the PISA 2012 mathematics assessment. The difference in mathematics performances within countries is even greater, with over 300 points — the equivalent of more than seven years of schooling — often separating the highest and lowest-achieving students in a country. Clearly, all countries and economies have excellent students, but few have enabled all students to excel.

❚ The report also reveals worrying gender differences in students’ attitudes towards mathematics: Even when girls perform as well as boys in mathematics, they report less perseverance, less motivation to learn mathematics, less belief in their own mathematics skills and higher levels of anxiety about mathematics. While the average girl underperforms in mathematics compared with the average boy, the gender gap in favour of boys is even wider among the highest-achieving students. These findings have serious implications not only for higher education, where young women are already under-represented in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields of study, but also later on, when these young women enter the labour market. This confirms the findings of the OECD Gender Strategy, which identifies some of the factors that create — and widen — the gender gap in education, labour and entrepreneurship. Supporting girls’ positive attitudes towards and investment in learning mathematics will go a long way towards narrowing this gap.

❚ PISA 2012 also finds the highest-performing school systems are those that allocate educational resources more equitably among advantaged and disadvantaged schools and grant more autonomy over curricula and assessments to individual schools. A belief all students can achieve at a high level and a willingness to engage all stakeholders in education, including students, through such channels as seeking student feedback on teaching practices, are hallmarks of successful school systems.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @NickMartin14

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