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“Most provinces provide no regular information to track the performance of native students in the core subjects of math science and reading."

February 13, 2018 – Collection of data on academic outcomes among Indigenous students is a necessary step towards bridging the education gap between Indigenous and non-indigenous students, according to a new report from the C.D. Howe Institute. In “Measuring Student Outcomes: The Case for Identifying Indigenous Students in Canada’s PISA Sample,” authors John Richards and Parisa Mahboubi encourage provinces to improve their understanding of native student outcomes by adding a question inviting Indigenous students to identify themselves for the forthcoming 2018 round of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

The PISA has become a crucial benchmark for measuring student performance in three core subjects (reading, math, and science) among a large sample of secondary students, age 15. All OECD member countries and 35 other countries participated in the previous round, in 2015.

“Most provinces provide no regular information to track the performance of native students in the core subjects of math science and reading,” the authors write. “Tracking educational outcomes provides evidence that enables better school management and improved outcomes.”

Census data show the current level of educational attainment. For example, the 2016 census showed that among young First Nation adults, ages 20 - 24, 75 percent living off-reserve have completed high school, but only 48 percent living on-reserve have done so. This compares with 92 percent among non-indigenous students.

However, Canada undertakes no comprehensive tracking of learning outcomes in the core subjects for Indigenous students. The Pan-Canadian Assessment Program has performed some assessments to identify Indigenous outcomes in core subjects at a provincial level, but the data are fragmentary, and provide little socio-economic evidence on Indigenous students.

Including an Indigenous indicator in provincial samples for the 2018 round of PISA would provide evidence for Indigenous students comparable across provinces and other OECD countries, and enable tracking results over time. To date, six provinces have agreed to add a voluntary question to their respective 2018 PISA samples. Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia have decided not to do so. They should reconsider, say the authors.

Certainly, K-12 education concerns more than the three core subjects. In particular, provincial schools have an obligation to prepare a culturally relevant curriculum for Indigenous students. However, culturally relevant studies should not be a substitute for reading, math, and science.

“The reluctance of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia to adopt an Indigenous identifier is a missed opportunity to measure and understand the most significant gap in Canadian K–12 education levels,” the authors emphasize. “We must establish better information on performance of Indigenous students if we hope to improve student results,” they conclude.

Click here for the full report.

The C.D. Howe Institute is an independent not-for-profit research institute whose mission is to raise living standards by fostering economically sound public policies. Widely considered to be Canada's most influential think tank, the Institute is a trusted source of essential policy intelligence, distinguished by research that is nonpartisan, evidence-based and subject to definitive expert review.

For more information contact: John Richards, Professor, Simon Fraser University; Parisa Mahboubi, Senior Policy Analyst at the C.D. Howe Institute. Phone: 416-865-1904; email: mmikey@cdhowe.org