– The C.D. Howe Institute is an independent not-for-profit research institute whose mission is to raise living standards by fostering economically sound public policies through research that is nonpartisan, evidence-based and subject to definitive expert review.

CANADA – As students prepare for return to school, educators and parents in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and the four Atlantic provinces should be concerned about their student test scores, according to a new report from the C.D. Howe Institute.

In “Red Flags for Educators: Lessons for Canada in the PISA Results“, author John Richards notes that, for reading, science, and mathematics, these six provinces all score below the Canadian average in international test scores.

“In Manitoba and Saskatchewan in particular, the declines in test scores are large and statistically significant,” says Richards. “In these two provinces, average scores for all three subjects are not only below the Canadian average, they are below international averages. In these two provinces, educators should be taking steps to reverse the decline.”

Richards provides an in-depth summary of results for Canada from the highly respected Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). Once every three years, PISA analyzes math, reading, and science performance among age 15 students in 70 countries, using a sample of over 500,000. From the most recent PISA “round”, in 2015, the Canadian sample provides key insights to where Canada is doing well and where we can improve.

Among the 70 countries in the 2015 “round”, Canada ranked 10th in mathematics, 3rd in reading, and 7th in science. Overall, Canada is faring well, but there are some alarming trends in the six smaller provinces. Since PISA began in 2000, Richards notes that test score declines in all three subjects have been significant for Manitoba and Saskatchewan. In these two provinces the indigenous share of K-12 students is over 25 percent, five times the average in the eight other provinces.

This fact is possibly important in understanding Manitoba and Saskatchewan results. In the four Atlantic provinces, scores are better than in these two Prairie provinces, but they too are not faring well. In all four provinces, average scores on each subject are below the relevant Canadian average, and with few exceptions, their scores have declined over the last decade.

For Canada overall, Richards points to more red flags; While Canada is still well above the international PISA average for mathematics, the Canadian mathematics score has consistently declined in each PISA “round” and the overall decline since 2003 is statistically significant. There also exist in Canada modest gender gaps in mathematics and science favouring boys, but a much larger gender gap in reading favouring girls.

“There are major conclusions relevant to Canada from the latest round of PISA results,” says Richards. “Educators, administrators, and parents should make use of PISA results as a guide to strategic priorities for education policy.”