Prince Edward Island came in dead last among Canadian provinces in the latest OECD Programme for International Student Assessment.
While the OECD began testing PEI students in 2000, the province has been slow to initiate its own system of assessment.
"... We didn't start this early enough," Education Minister Alan McIsaac said. "We didn't have the supports in place at the time."
Ontario has been testing its school children since the 1990s, with the results used to craft targeted approaches to improving achievement. PEI introduced assessments of pupils in Grades 3, 6 and 9 over the past seven years, and will soon be testing its Grade 11 students.
In spite of steadily dropping PISA scores since 2006, Mr. McIsaac said provincial assessments in reading, writing and math are showing small improvements each year. Literacy and numeracy coaches travel around the island province to assist teachers with the curriculum and help struggling students.
"I'm not making any excuses for our results in PISA," Mr. McIsaac said. "But we recognized back in 2003 that we were last. We have changed considerably."
A few years ago, the province introduced a publicly funded full-day kindergarten program for five-year-olds and a pre-school play-based curriculum. The province is banking on research that shows investments in education in the early years will lead to more students achieving throughout their schooling – and higher test scores.
"We were slow out of the gate, and we've made major investments and major changes to our system," Mr. McIsaac said. "We're not pleased with where we ended up in the PISA scores, that's for sure. But if we were just sitting on our hands and doing nothing, I would be really concerned."