Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Support quality journalism
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24weeks
The Globe and Mail
Support quality journalism
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Globe and Mail website displayed on various devices
Just$1.99
per week
for the first 24weeks

var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){console.log("scroll");var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1);

High-school students in Alberta have given the provincial government – and its foes – a new weapon in the fight over education: top marks.

Students in Alberta, on average, posted higher test scores than their counterparts across the country in reading, math and science, according to the results of a global assessment released last week. And when compared with students in other countries, Alberta teens ranked among the best in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

This comes as Albertans spar over education funding, curriculum, teaching methods and standardized testing. The governing United Conservative Party last summer nixed its predecessor’s curriculum overhaul, arguing it was too focused on “discovery learning," and appointed its own review panel. That study group is expected to hand over its initial findings next week. Critics argue the UCP’s advisory group is short on actual teachers. Fights over layoffs, classroom sizes and spending continue to exacerbate tensions between Alberta and some in education circles.

Story continues below advertisement

Canada ranked fourth in the world in reading skills – behind Beijing-Shanghai-Jiangsu-Guangdong (China), Singapore, and Macao (China) – in the latest PISA results, which measure the abilities of 15-year-old students around the world. But if Alberta were a country, it would rank third in reading, the survey said.

Experts warn against putting too much emphasis on global standings and argue PISA should not be used in isolation when measuring success. Richelle Marynowski, a mathematics education and evaluation expert at the University of Lethbridge, expects Alberta’s PISA results to be used as rhetorical weaponry.

“We use PISA to justify all sorts of things. You can use it to justify: ‘Look, we’re doing great. Let us be,'" said Prof. Marynowski, who was part of the previous government’s curriculum review effort. “We can use it to say: ‘But we’re not increasing [our rankings] so we need to make things better.’"

PISA comes with a plethora of problems. It tests 15-year-old students, but jurisdictions do not teach students the same thing at the same time, she said. What one country – or province within a country – may teach 14-year-olds may not happen until students hit 16 years of age elsewhere, for example. Some countries game the system by preventing weaker students from participating in the exams, Prof. Marynowski added. So while the results do show Canada and Alberta are doing well over all, PISA should not drive the education debate.

Stu Henry, the superintendent for Red Deer Public School District, argues PISA results validate Alberta’s current education system.

“I do find it very fascinating that we’re looking at pulling apart the system these days,” he said, pointing to proposals such as implementing a voucher system or tying classroom funding to performance targets rather than enrollment numbers.

Mr. Henry acknowledges the danger in overemphasizing PISA, but argues it deserves to be part of Alberta’s education debate.

Story continues below advertisement

“If we had horrible results, I know that it would be weaponized,” Mr. Henry said.

“So to me, it is fair game that if we are literally at the top of the planet for our results, then there should at least be some acknowledgement that we’re doing a lot right.”

Colin Aitchison, spokesman for Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, said PISA provides evidence of weakness.

“While we welcome Alberta’s climb in global rankings, our increase is the result of a downward trend, not an improvement in Alberta’s scores," he said in a statement. "There is always room for improvement, and we will look at all opportunities to strengthen our education system so we can see increasing scores, in addition to climbing global rankings.”

We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.

Related topics

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies