Saturday, April 25, 2009

Canadian students near top of world

Shocking news: Canada does something important well
Paul Wells, Maclean's: [In] the OECD's Pisa study, a large international survey of 15-year-olds' performance on standard math, science and reading tests... you get large samples, lots of buy-in, a time series that results from administering the tests repeatedly, and other good stuff. And here's what it shows about how Canadian 15-year-olds do compared to their peers in dozens of other countries.

1. Canadian students perform near the top of the world.

2. Being rich or poor is a worse predictor of test outcomes in Canada than in almost any other country. Typically, poorer students do worse on tests. But that effect is greater in some countries and smaller in others. In Canada it's quite small, compared to other countries.

3. Put those two together and you get a very cool scatter chart. You want to be in the upper-left-hand corner: students score high, and economic inequality is a poor predictor of score inequality. The lower right-hand corner is the dunce-cap corner: students score low, and the poor ones are screwed for good. Guess where Canada lands.

4. How much are we paying for this sort of success? About in the midrange, as these things go... It's a rough measure of the efficiency of a school system. Again, bad news for the United States, which spends profligate sums for very modest results. Canada is not shockingly efficient, but its results are solidly in the middle of the countries on the chart.

5. So, we send out 15-year-olds into international tests quite close to the top of the league tables, and the poorer ones are less disadvantaged than their poorer peers around the world. We achieve these results at a very ordinary cost.
Image: Pisa