ATA says education funding pays off as Alberta students rank near top of global survey

Results of a global education survey that found Alberta students rank among the best in the world in reading, math and science, show that education funding pays off, according to the president of the Alberta Teachers' Association.

Students in the province rank third globally at reading and science, and eighth in math, according to the ATA's summary of the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment, which was released Tuesday.

Students in Alberta also achieved a higher score than the Canadian average, and were bested only by Quebec in mathematics, the ATA said.

"I keep on hearing that within different circles that we are spending way more money on education in Alberta, and not seeing the results. You know the PISA test results that came out today are an indication that … we are seeing great results by students," said Jason Schilling, president of the Alberta Teachers' Association.

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The PISA assessment — conducted in 79 member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) — tests capabilities of randomly selected 15-year-olds in reading, math and science literacy through a two-hour computer-based test. 

Schilling said while standardized testing is just a snapshot of a student at that moment, the results do show the importance of investing in education. 

"What it also tells me is that we need to ensure that the government doesn't undermine or erode education in Alberta. So no more cuts to education, we want to make sure that the curriculum is updated on a regular basis, that has experts giving input, such as teachers," he said.

Schilling said Alberta's results were stronger than other provinces that spend more on education — as the MacKinnon Report on Alberta's Finances showed only B.C. spends less per student, and B.C. tested worse than Alberta. 

Quebec, the only province to test higher than Alberta in one subject, spends about 10 per cent more, Schilling said. 

The global survey has been conducted every three years since 2000 and in recent years results both in Alberta and globally have largely flatlined or even declined.

That's something Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange drew attention to in a statement responding to the release of the survey's results.

"While these rankings are something to applaud, the raw scores are either flat or seeing a slight decline," LaGrange wrote. 

"These results provide us with valuable information to help find more opportunities to improve. I will continue to work to strengthen our education system, especially in mathematics. I look forward to increasing scores, in addition to climbing global rankings, in future years."

But Schilling said it's important to recognize the stagnation isn't unique to Alberta.

"I think it's unfair for the minister to say, well, in Alberta we're seeing a decline or stagnation when that actually exists in all of the other areas across the world," he said. 

"What we do then is we look at ways to strengthen that within the systems, so we all for maybe extra funding so that class sizes aren't growing as large as they are right now."

A total of 2,190 students in Alberta participated in the testing, out of a total of 22,440 in Canada.

Canada's full results can be viewed on the OECD website.