2015 PISA Results – Working Together with Thought and Purpose


The 2015 PISA scores were released December 6. The focus of the test was science and Alberta results were strong in all areas as has been the case in the past. The topic that will be hotly debated will be the math results that have shown a small decline over several years. However we encourage all those interested in education to work together in a thoughtful purposeful way on areas such as math literacy and avoid sensationalizing these results. Alberta Education has taken action on addressing concerns with math education through the Math Curriculum Review Working Group.

Today’s results highlight the success of both Alberta teachers and students who continue to make a strong showing nationally and internationally.

As a public education advocacy group we strongly support an education system that develops well educated and engaged citizens. We are keenly aware that a large portion of our population, including parents and government, measure success with quantitative measures such as the PISA international test.

We understand the need to measure progress of students and the importance of using international criteria to assess the effectiveness of education methodologies and systems. However, as a child centred advocacy group we would like to emphasize the dangers of high stakes standardized tests on students and on how placing a high value on international test results can negatively influence education policy.  

The role of tests like PISA on the education system must be clearly defined along with recognizing the purpose for such measurements.  PISA tests are ONE measurement completed at ONE time during the school year.  In much the same way your dashboard has multiple gauges to determine the efficiency of your vehicle, the PISA score is simply one gauge of the vehicle in this case the education system.

Discussions around the 2015 PISA scores for Alberta, only serve to underscore the strategies advocated for by Support Our Students Alberta(SOSAB).  Prior to the PISA results, it was apparent, through reports from teachers, parents, and previous results both provincially and internationally, that more needs to be done to improve the numeracy of Alberta’s students. Some solutions SOSAB advocates for include:

  1. Stronger balance between rote memorization and inquiry based learning.  In the same way we have found a balance between phonics and decoding, a combination of both pedagogies must be achieved to attain the highest possible understanding of numeracy.
  2. Return to an emphasis on teachers obtaining subject specialization for all subject areas. This means teachers are trained at the university level for subject specialization so that proficiency, in this case, mathematics is required to teach in the system. Having teachers who are expert and have a love for the subject they are teaching improves the quality of instruction and student outcomes.

Quebec consistently outperforms other provinces on math scores: Researchers say Quebec’s strong performance is a result of intensive teacher training and a curriculum that balances basic math drills with problem-solving approaches. In Quebec, for example, elementary-school math teachers must take as many as 225 hours of university courses in math education. In other Canadian provinces, that number can be as low as 39. (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/education/tests-show-provincial-differences-in-math-reading-science-education/article20955151/ )

SOS AB encourages Alberta to implement a similar strategy.

  1. Move to meet the class size recommendations as set out by the

Alberta Learning Commission Report  of 2003. Facilitating learning is more effective in class sizes that maximize individual attention.

As a child focused advocacy group, we believe high stakes, high stress testing is not in the best interest of students.  We do however, acknowledge and support the need for a variety tools to measure both students and the system.  But it is imperative to have a balance between what is most useful for student success and the emphasis placed on standardized tests.  Let’s not forget assessment in Alberta classrooms is ongoing using a variety of methods, everyday.   

It is also important to recognize the inherent biases associated with achievement tests such as the PISA.  In May 2014, 80 academics from across the globe wrote an Open Letter to Andreas Schleicher, Director of PISA, expressing some such concerns.  

Finally, it is evident Alberta needs to continue working towards much needed reform that improves the quality and equity of our public education system. Prior to the 2015 PISA results, parents, teachers and employers had already observed falling levels of numeracy among students. We urge citizens, students, and government at all levels, to consider advocating for and implementing the strategies SOSAB recommends in order to improve areas such as math literacy in Alberta. Not because attaining high international rankings is an end goal for the education system, but because our students deserve a richer, more balanced and inclusive approach to their education.


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