Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/12/2011 (2925 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Manitoba did not "top only New Brunswick and P.E.I." in mathematics, as was stated in a Nov. 30 Free Press editorial (Stop listening to the union). No, we did worse than that. We topped only P.E.I. New Brunswick, in point of fact, scored five rankings above Manitoba in mathematics overall.
As the Manitoba Teachers' Society president, I take these results seriously. All educational partners have met with the minister of education to map out next steps.
The Free Press's editorializing on this matter has caused some significant anxiety among parents and teachers. We are not afraid of testing. We probably invented it, and we do it all the time.
What I object to is the misrepresentation of the results of tests like the Pan Canadian Assessment Program. It damages children and public confidence in the education system. Trust is foundational to the work we do. As a citizen, I didn't have to point out that we did "worse" than the Free Press said. As a teacher, I have precisely that obligation. It's either good information, or it's not. My job is to ensure that parents and colleagues and the system get good information.
A few facts may be useful. Manitoba students improved in all areas tested since the last PCAP assessment. That was clear in the report. Our ranking nationally fell. Other jurisdictions' average test scores improved more than ours did. It does not mean Manitoba kids got dumber.
Math lesson time. Math scores: Manitoba, 468; Yukon, 469; Newfoundland and Labrador, 472; Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan, each 474. That's five provinces within 1.2 percentage points of each other. Put another way: Billy got 80 per cent on his test. Sally got 81 per cent on her test.
Math lesson, part two: The creators of this test, the Council of Ministers of Education, rightly points out that the margin of error on these scores is greater than the differences in these scores. In plain English, that means that the statisticians who crunch the data are saying that the scores are basically equivalent.
Life lesson: Socio-economic status is the best indicator of student success. Manitoba remains the child-poverty capital of Canada. A student who got up that morning to running water, clean clothes, at least one parent, and something to eat might have done a bit better on the test. Manitoba is a diverse province. With diversity comes societal richness, but diversity also brings challenges. Manitoba teachers are doing superb work to help ensure every child succeeds.
The editorial statement that Manitoba cannot ignore these results ignores the well-publicized fact that Manitoba already has made serious commitments to improve student learning — even the Free Press reported on those: early years education, the elimination of the no-fail policy and smaller class sizes. Class-size limits in the early years already have had significant positive impact in other provinces, especially Ontario.
In general, smart people take great care to ensure that assessment tools such as the PCAP are fair. It's not an exact science, but for sake of discussion, assume sample schools chosen were chosen very well, maybe perfectly.
If you are a parent, teacher, or a citizen who knows that schools matter, then I'd have you know these things:
1) The test is optional.
2) CMEC identifies particular schools in every province or territory that are representative of those jurisdictions as a whole.
3) If a school decides not to do the test, that school is not replaced with another school that does do the test.
Math lesson, part three: Manitoba was the only jurisdiction in Canada to have 100 per cent of the selected schools do the PCAP assessment.
I will give you one guess as to what impact that had on "average test scores." Show your work.
Paul Olson is president of
the Manitoba Teachers' Society.