Provinces release the latest results on the performance of grade 8 students in math, reading, and science
TORONTO, October 12, 2021 – A new report released today by the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC), presents a detailed portrait of the skills of Canadian youth in Grade 8 (Secondary II in Quebec) in three core areas of learning: mathematics, reading, and science.
The Pan-Canadian Assessment Program (PCAP) was first introduced by ministers of education in 2007 to provide robust, comparable data on how well students are doing in provincial education systems. It complements other pan-Canadian assessments and permits student performance to be compared across the country. PCAP also complements key international studies in which Canada participates, such as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), and OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).
The latest iteration of PCAP was administered in 2019. Approximately 30,000 Grade 8/Secondary II students, from close to 1,600 schools across all 10 provinces, were tested in the spring of that year, with mathematics as the primary focus of assessment. Reading and science were also assessed.
The results were very encouraging. At the pan-Canadian level, 90 percent of Canadian students in Grade 8/Secondary II demonstrate the proficiency in mathematics that is expected of them (Level 2 or above), and almost 10 percent reach the highest level of performance (Level 4). Furthermore, at the provincial level, over 80 percent of students in every province (and 90 percent or more in four of them) meet the expected standard.
PCAP’s three-year cycles began in 2007, so it is possible to compare results over time in all three domains — mathematics, reading, and science. In mathematics, PCAP data show that achievement in Grade 8/Secondary II improved or remained stable in provinces across Canada between 2010 (the last time mathematics was the major domain) and 2019. In reading, there were significant improvements in achievement in Canada overall, and in half of the provinces, between 2010 and 2019; results in the remaining provinces remained stable. In science, performance improved across Canada, and in half of the provinces, between 2013 and 2019.
“Providing students with access to quality education, with a focus on mathematics, is critical for Canada’s long-term competitiveness and prosperity,” said the Honourable Stephen Lecce, Vice Chair of CMEC and Minister of Education for Ontario. “While work remains to be done, we are encouraged to see performance increase across Canada in mathematics and other foundational subjects, including reading and science. Strengthening life and job skills and STEM education will help ensure Canadian students succeed in the classroom and workforce.”
Some other key findings from today’s report:
- In Canada overall, PCAP 2019 shows no gender difference in achievement in mathematics at the Grade 8/Secondary II level. This outcome is different from those recorded by Grade 4 students in TIMSS 2019 and by 15-year-olds in PISA 2018, where boys outperformed girls. In reading, PCAP 2019 shows girls outperforming boys in Canada overall and in all provinces, a result that is consistent with international studies. In science, girls outperform boys in Canada overall and in five provinces. This is consistent for 15-year-olds in PISA 2018, but contrasts with Grade 4 students in TIMSS 2019, where boys outperformed girls in science.
- Across provinces, the highest scores in mathematics are found in Quebec, while Alberta and Ontario perform at the Canadian average. In reading, the highest average scores are achieved by Ontario students; in science, Alberta, Ontario, and Prince Edward Island students score the highest.
- In Canada overall, students enrolled in francophone schools achieve higher results in mathematics than those enrolled in anglophone schools; however, the opposite pattern is seen for reading and science. At the provincial level, in most provinces with English majority-language school systems, students in the English systems do better in science and reading than students in the French systems. Mathematics, however, presents a more complex picture: students in the French schools in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Quebec, and New Brunswick outperform their English counterparts, while in Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, and Nova Scotia, mathematics results are not different in the English and French systems. In Quebec, which has a majority-French system, there is no significant difference in reading and science results between the two school systems.
To evaluate the results compiled in the report, as well as compare PCAP 2019 with previous iterations, it is necessary to understand how skills were measured. Students’ total scores in each subject area were transposed onto a common scale, ranging from 0 to 1,000, with the average for the pan-Canadian population set at 500 for the baseline year for each subject. Trends over time were identified by whether the number was above or below 500 in subsequent assessments.
PCAP 2019 also collected extensive contextual information from questionnaires completed by students, teachers, and principals. This information will be published in the coming months and should offer insight into some of the factors that may influence student performance in mathematics.
The next cycle of PCAP is already underway. PCAP 2023 will focus on science; mathematics and reading will also be assessed.
For highlights and the full PCAP 2019 report, visit: https://cmec.ca/746/Public_Report.html.
Founded in 1967, CMEC is the collective voice of Canada’s ministers of education. It provides leadership in education at the pan-Canadian and international levels and contributes to the exercise of the exclusive jurisdiction of provinces and territories over education. For more information, visit us at www.cmec.ca.
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