DO declining provincial scores on an international math test add up to a crisis in Alberta’s education system? Is Canada’s national drop in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) a problem “on the scale of a national emergency”. … The simple answer is no, not yet. Like the proverbial canary in the coal mine, however, the triennial test results are a warning sign the Alberta government, educators and parents should … learn from.

…[T]he PISA test is a measure used by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development to assess what 15-year-olds know and what they can do with that information. In the 2012 test … 65 countries participated. … Nationally, Canadian students placed 13th in mathematics. … And there also were fewer high achievers among Canadian students.

Looked at independently, Alberta’s system saw some significant declines from three years earlier, falling from eighth in mathematics to 11th. But nationally and provincially, students performed above the OECD average. Alberta is still near the top of the pack. …

At this point, the test results are not something to panic about. But Alberta does need to recalibrate its relationship with math. This is a province with an economy rooted in math-related jobs. There isn’t a skilled trade that doesn’t require its practitioner to be proficient in math.

At the same time, complaints seem to be multiplying among parents about the redesigned math curriculum Alberta introduced about six years ago, built around encouraging a variety of problem-solving strategies rather than a single way to arrive at the right answer. There is a move among a number of families to move to a back-to-basics school programme or private math lessons. Choice is an important part of Alberta’s school system, but math is a subject in which the province cannot afford “haves” and “have-nots”. … — (Dec 5)

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