As I read the media reports of the 2015 PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results I could almost feel the media’s disappointment. Of the 72 countries and jurisdictions around the world participating, students in British Columbia were the highest performing in reading, 2nd highest in science and 6th in math. The results are outstanding. And this is no small test – over 500,000 15-year-old students participated around the world including more than 20,000 in Canada. Of course, good news just doesn’t make “news” like bad news. There are far more people who seem to enjoy a “Students Struggle with Reading” headline, rather than a “Local Students Top Readers in the World” headline. (See full Canadian results here).
I dedicate dozens of posts each year on this blog to talking about the need to do things differently. And results like those from PISA do not change the need or urgency. They do remind us in British Columbia (and all across Canada) we are improving from a place of strength. We have an exemplary education system that is not satisfied with the status quo and we want to be sure that as the world continues to change, our curriculum, assessment and programs continue to adapt to ensure our relevance.
I have written about PISA two times before (when both the 2009 and 2012 results were released – and I still hold to these commentaries). Beyond the high-level numbers the power of PISA is that there is a lot of data that helps tell a more complete story. I find the most useful information are deeper in the report below the silly “who won” conversation. From first look, one sees that there is a very small gender gap in science in Canada, for example, and overall the level of equity (the difference between the highest and lowest scores) is better (more equitable) in Canada than elsewhere. As I said in my comments three years ago, when asked about PISA – “It is what it is”. It is one part of the education story, but when governments invest billions of dollars into education, it is a powerful tool to help see we are doing some things right.
I am also left thinking about Finland today. Like many others, I have visited Finland to learn about what they have done to develop such a strong education system. And just what first attracted me to Finland? Well, it was their PISA scores. The same PISA scores that today indicate the world has a lot to learn from Canada and British Columbia. The same PISA scores that remind me that we can learn a lot in British Columbia from colleagues in Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and truly across the country. The same PISA scores that remind me as Superintendent in West Vancouver, there is a lot we can learn from Surrey, Victoria and Bulkley Valley.
Of course we have many areas in British Columbia we can improve – it is forever the nature of education. We need to continue to work to improve our Aboriginal graduation rates, and support all learners in our classrooms. There is a danger that a report like this can suggest we tick the education box in our society and stop investing – we need to do the opposite and continue to invest in public education in British Columbia so we grow from this position of strength. And yes, PISA is just one measure – we know there are so many factors beyond tests like these that we need to track to ensure our students are strong academic performers and capable citizens (and yes, there are many thoughtful critics of PISA).
But let’s leave the other conversations for another day – today is a day to recognize the system we have – and it is damn good! All of us who have children in BC’s schools, and all of us who work in BC schools should be very proud.
OK, that is more self-congratulating than most of us Canadians are used to – let’s get back to work!