Article by Chief Executive Officer, Marguerite Jackson
The results of the 2009 administration of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)—which assessed 15-year-old students in reading, math and science—were released on December 7 and hold some encouraging news for Ontarians. They show that Ontario students are among the best in the world in reading, with 92% meeting or exceeding PISA’s key achievement benchmark. Reading is among the skills most critical for success in the 21st century, and of the 75 jurisdictions that participated in PISA 2009, including all 10 Canadian provinces, only Shanghai, China had reading results that were significantly higher (statistically) than those of a group of seven including Ontario.
Ontario student achievement on national and international tests is consistently high, and these results are further proof that our students are developing the reading skills they will need to participate effectively in the global world and workforce of the 21st century. These results are also evidence of the success of Ontario teachers’ focused attention on literacy. Ontario’s emphasis on identifying struggling students early, providing targeted interventions to support them and tracking their achievement has positioned its students among the top performers in Canada and around the world.
The results of PISA 2009 also show that Ontario’s education system has been more successful than most at developing strong reading skills in its students while at the same time reducing the effects of socio-economic challenges. Ontario is among the few jurisdictions in the world with both high achievement in reading and a relatively small performance gap between the students from high- and low-income households. Our results in this area are both impressive and important and fulfill the moral imperative that has driven Ontario’s education system to attend to the success of each one of its students.
The recent PISA results also challenge us to look more closely at other areas of student learning. A wide range of 21st-century skills relate to science and math, and the 2009 PISA results are a reminder that Ontario’s students are not as well positioned as we want them to be in these subjects. These latest results show that, while Ontario students are performing well and holding their own in relation to other countries and provinces, they are not among the top global achievers in these two areas of learning. Further, on other recent international assessments, up to 13 jurisdictions have done significantly better than Ontario in math and up to eight have in science. These findings reinforce the data from the provincial tests administered by EQAO, which show no substantive changes in math achievement among Ontario’s English-language elementary school students over the past five years and point to significant challenges for Grade 9 applied math students. PISA’s newest set of data highlights the importance of continued attention to student development in math and science.
The province’s success with reading achievement is a testament to our collective ability to drive purposeful improvement in our schools. And while international assessments, which test only a small sample of Ontario students, provide a good gauge of how our students are doing in a global context, our goal must remain helping each of our students succeed. Doing so necessitates clear expectations, concerted attention and constant monitoring of progress—three requirements Ontario has already proven it can satisfy. There is much to be proud of in Ontario’s public education system. With sustained commitment and dedication, Ontario has all it needs to help deliver its students a successful future.