Policy can improve students’ scores: report

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The second part of a report released by John Richards of the C.D. Howe Institute addresses the issue of declining scores in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

The first part of the report, released in December 2013, illustrated statistically significant declines in mathematics scores for most Canadian provinces. Science and reading scores were also low for many provinces.

The latest report looks at which policies have potential to improve student performance.

Pre-primary or early childhood education is one such policy. The report says such education shows positive effects once students reach age 15. The greatest potential benefit, according to the report, is among socially disadvantaged students — students who come from families able to provide fewer education services for their children than other, more advantaged families.

The report also found that school autonomy improves outcomes. Jurisdictions that have expanded curriculum design and student assessment autonomy compared to those with less internal allocation of resources have better student performance.

However, that improvement hinges on schools posting scores publicly. In other words, school systems that post scores publicly show a positive relationship between school autonomy in resource allocation and student performance. Schools that do not post scores show a less positive relationship between the two. Data show that posting scores is a means of assuring or increasing school accountability.

 

Salary

A bit of good news for secondary school teachers is that the report found paying such teachers a better salary results in better students outcomes.

However, the report warns it’s not as simple as higher dollars giving higher points.

“The link between salaries and outcomes is not simple,” the report states.

Comparing Canada and the U.S., where teachers aren’t paid as handsomely, shows that higher salary is a factor positively affecting student outcome.

The report also suggests that design of the mathematics curriculum is probably important. Of course, teacher ability is also a factor. Merely paying an inept teacher more money doesn’t do anything for student scores.

A controversial policy of subsidizing families to send children to private schools may help explain Quebec’s overall superior PISA mathematics outcomes.

“Private schools have a role in introducing new teaching techniques, in providing a competitive benchmark for public schools, and providing an alternative for parents and students determined to obtain a good education in the context of an under-performing neighbourhood public school,” the report reads.

It also highlights the reasons for maintaining and strengthening the public sector. If large numbers of socially advantaged students left the public school sector, there would be the loss of parental oversight of that system and the gap between more and less advantaged students would widen. The report also notes the benefit public schools have on integrating immigrants. 

Geographic location: Canada, U.S., Quebec

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