Sask PISA ranking: A closer look

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December 4, 2013 by realrenewal

standardized_test_sheet_and_pencilby Marc Spooner

The Programme for International Student Achievement (PISA) scores are only one measure of student achievement and should be taken as such. They are administered by an organization devoted to Economic co-operation and development (OECD), and not an organisation devoted to Education co-operation and development. However, since the PISA results do get a considerable amount of headlines, discussion, and hand-wringing, let’s take a closer look at Saskatchewan’s results.

Saskatchewan outperforms the OECD average on every measure whether in Mathematics, Reading, or Science. In fact, Saskatchewan’s scores have actually improved relative to the rest of Canada since our scores have remained statistically stable, while the rest of Canada’s have declined somewhat, yet are still some of the best in the world especially in Reading and Science.

It seems ironic that while the rest of Canada has jumped on the costly and ineffective standardized testing bandwagon, and witnessed their scores mostly drop on PISA, Saskatchewan has resisted and our scores have remained stable. It is also interesting to note that countries like China, Singapore, and Korea, where rote learning is the main teaching and learning approach, top the PISA lists.

A telling thought experiment is to try to imagine what differentiates an education in a democracy as opposed to one in a heavily state-controlled regime. If you were blindfolded and dropped into either classroom could you tell the difference? The attributes we value most in a democratic education are things like critical and creative thinking, knowledge of current events, engaged citizenship, and individual agency, in a learning environment that places importance on teachable moments and self-directed, cooperative, and inquiry learning. All important characteristics upon which we place great value, and yet are not measured at all by PISA tests or any standardized tests for that matter.

Of course math, reading, and science are very important, but they are not the only lessons we value in a democratic educational system. To paraphrase the educational theorist Alfie Kohn, “Your test scores went up? Oh NO! What did you have to sacrifice from my child’s education to get that?”

Dr. Marc Spooner is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education, University of Regina

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