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Canadian students performed better than OECD average in international test

A new report shows Canadian students are performing as well, if not better, than their American, Australian and British peers even though the country spends less per student on education.

The latest results of the Programme for International Student Assessment, released today, suggest that after a certain spending threshold, there is almost no relationship between the amount invested in education and student performance.

The program, administered by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development to its member countries, says that threshold is US$50,000 per student.

It says the U.S., Australia and the United Kingdom all spend more than double that amount, but students there scored no better — and sometimes worse — in last year’s test than those in Canada, Ireland and New Zealand, which spend between 10 and 30 per cent less.

Overall, the organization says, most countries have seen little improvement in their performance over the last decade, despite increased spending on schooling.

Students in Canada and 10 other countries performed better than the OECD average in the 2018 assessment, and those countries also had one of the weakest relationships between reading performance and socio-economic status.

“This means that these countries have the most equitable systems where students can flourish, regardless of their background,” the organization said in a statement.

The program assesses 15-year-old students on reading, mathematics and science, with the latest test focusing on the reading in a digital environment. Most students completed the test on computers, the organization said.

Some 600,000 students in 79 countries took part in the 2018 test, the seventh round of the program that launched in 2000. In Canada, more than 22,650 students in 914 schools participated.

Significantly more Canadian students attained at least a Level 2 proficiency in reading than the OECD average: 86 per cent compared with 77 per cent. That means at minimum, those students can identify the main idea in a text and find information based on specific criteria, the organization said.

Some 15 per cent of Canadian students were top performers in reading — attaining a Level 5 or 6 score — which means they can understand long texts, deal with abstract concepts and tell the difference between fact and opinion, it said.

About 84 per cent of students in Canada reached a Level 2 or higher in math, eight percentage points above the OECD average. These students, at a minimum, can interpret and recognize how simple situations can be approached mathematically, such as converting prices into different currencies, the organization said.

Fifteen per cent of Canadian students scored a Level 5 or higher in math, compared with the OECD average of 11 per cent. That means the students can deal with complex situations mathematically.

Six Asian countries and economies, including China and Singapore, had the highest proportion of students who were top performers in math.

When it comes to science, about 87 per cent of students in Canada reached Level 2 or higher, meaning they can recognize the correct explanation for familiar scientific phenomena, the organization said. That’s compared with the OECD average of 78 per cent.

Eleven per cent of Canadian participants were top performers in science, reflecting their ability to “creatively and autonomously” apply their scientific knowledge in a range of situations, the report said. The OECD average is seven per cent.

Canada was among a handful of countries where students’ expectations of further education were ambitious and aligned with the school performance, regardless of their socio-economic status, the report said.

The report highlights an experiment at what it calls “disadvantaged” high schools in Toronto, which found that watching a video about the benefits of post-secondary education and getting a chance to try a financial aid calculator helped raise students’ expectations of earning a degree.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Dec. 3, 2019.

Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press