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Canadian students perform well regardless of socioeconomic status

Canada's education system remains one of the best in the world, and our students perform well regardless of socioeconomic background, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development's most recent international assessment of reading, math and science.

The warm glow of the results, released early Tuesday morning, was dampened somewhat by the fact that Canada's scores are not going up, while other OECD nations, including Korea, are making steady gains.

"Canada has plateaued for some years now and I think that's something to watch out for; the world is not standing still," said Andreas Schleicher, head of the indicators and analysis division of the OECD's Directorate of Education.

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The test, known as the Programme for International Student Assessment, evaluated the quality, equity and efficiency of education systems in 70 countries. It is administered once every three years, and approximately 470,000 15-year-olds wrote the test in 2009.

Canada's strongest performance was in reading, with the fifth-highest score behind runaway leader Shanghai-China, followed by Korea, Finland, Hong Kong-China and Singapore. Canadian students also posted top scores in math and science.

Canada, Finland, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong-China and Shanghai-China were all noted in the PISA report as places where "students tend to perform well regardless of their own background or the school they attend."

Mr. Schleicher said this measure is important because it provides an indicator of how well a country is maximizing its students' potential, and that it is "quite impressive" that Canada manages this with a "not terribly expensive education system."

"The strength of Canada's education system is that we have one of the world's most equitable systems," said Paul Cappon, president and CEO of the Canadian Council on Learning. "That happens in part because we do a better job of integrating immigrant students than other countries do, but that's not going to keep us ahead forever."

Canada should be setting national benchmarks for learning outcomes, and regularly measuring and updating them to avoid falling behind, he said.

The most recent test also looked at the gap between boys and girls in reading skills. Girls outperformed boys in every country, with an average score gap equivalent to one year of schooling.

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