Education report fails Yukon students

Yukon students test scores rank among the lowest in Canada, according to a recent study. The Pan-Canadian Assessment Program assessed the ability of…

Yukon students test scores rank among the lowest in Canada, according to a recent study.

The Pan-Canadian Assessment Program assessed the ability of 13-year-olds across the country in reading, math and science.

The random test was not conducted in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.

The Yukon did OK in reading, though it ranked below the national average. It placed somewhere in the middle of the pack.

However, the territory flunked the other two subjects.

In math, Yukon students ranked at the bottom of the list, just ahead of PEI.

And the territory was dead last in science.

Whitehorse Elementary School Council member Keith Halliday expected the territory would do poorly in the testing, but not this bad, he said.

“But the thing that’s really new about these results is not the test scores themselves, but the data they have about the distribution of the test scores.”

According to the report, 18 per cent of the students tested did very well and 18 per cent did very poorly.

“That is more of a barbell effect than in most places in Canada,” said Halliday.

“What I think this means is that there’s really no average student in the Yukon — there are some kids headed for university that are doing really well and that we need to support.

“And then there’s also a large number of kids that are really struggling with the core skills.”

This is where the territory could deploy more resources, like learning assistance, reading recovery and things like the Whole Child Program, said Halliday.

“I think this is real evidence that there’s a group of kids that really need more help than they’re getting from the school system.”

The evidence isn’t quite as concrete for Yukon Teachers’ Association president Jim Tredger.

“There’s quite a variation between what rural children do and urban children do,” said Tredger.

“Since the assessment included all of our children it would change the results somewhat.”

The territory’s small size also skewed the numbers, he said.

All Yukon 13-year-old students participated in the assessment.

“While all of our children write it, only some of the children in the south write it,” said Tredger.

“Certainly we will be looking at the results and some of the implications and working with the department of education to improve our standing.

“We’re trying to get an accurate assessment of where our children stand and we’re looking at various tests and various kinds of tests to make sure that our children do well when they go and compete for jobs across Canada.”

Prince Edward Island also performed very poorly in the assessment.

After the results came out, PEI’s Education Minister Gerard Greenan said it was a problem and pledged more money for programs.

“It seems to be taking this quite seriously and is concerned about it,” said Halliday.

“And the minister’s comments showed that they’re taking it seriously.”

The Yukon announced it will decrease education funding by 2.7 per cent in the upcoming budget — a $2.4-million cut.

Instead of offering solutions, the Education department is attacking the Pan Canadian Assessment Program’s test, said Halliday.

“This is the most authoritative testing we have in Canada, so it seems a bit worrying.”

Education officials blame the low test scores on the small number of Yukon students tested.

The numbers may be skewed, but not necessarily against the territory, said Halliday.

As many as 5.9 per cent of students were exempted from taking the test because of low abilities.

The national average for this exemption was only 3.6 percent.

Also, 9.1 per cent of students in the territory were absent during the day of the testing — the highest rate of absenteeism in the country.

“So that means, in some sense, the numbers on the earlier pages may actually overstate our performance.”

“Other than working with many partners and cutting the public school budget and cutting teacher positions, what does the minister propose to do to address this alarming situation?” asked Liberal MLA Eric Fairclough in the legislature on Thursday.

“We recognize there are areas we need to improve on, which was one of the initiatives behind the education reform project and some of the reasons behind changes in curriculum and the changes in programming,” said Education Minister Patrick Rouble.

“We’ll continue to work in all areas of the education system in order to close the performance gap between those people who are performing well and those who aren’t and to increase the performance level of all in our system.”

The Pan-Canadian Assessment Program was not a true measure of students’ skills, said Education officials.

However, students have not been performing well in the Yukon Achievement Test either.

Students have performed below Education’s goals in eight out of 11 categories.