Saskatchewan's education minister was on the defensive Thursday, fielding questions from the Opposition about a comparison he made between the test scores of students in independent schools and those in public schools.
During question period at the legislature on Tuesday, Dustin Duncan said 57.7 per cent of students at qualified independent schools — those that meet criteria for a certain level of provincial funding — scored higher than 80 per cent on departmental exams, while 54 per cent of all Saskatchewan students reached that level.
In Catholic and public schools specifically, 56 per cent of students reached the 80 per cent or higher mark, Duncan said.
On Thursday, NDP House leader Nicole Sarauer pressed the Saskatchewan Party minister, asking if qualified independent schools are better or just not held to the same standard.
"I wasn't saying that they were better or worse than any other school in the province," Duncan responded.
"What I was referring to was the outcomes that have been demonstrated over the last year by all of our different school categories in the province."
The education ministry has been under fire recently for alleged abuses at some qualified independent schools, including Legacy Christian Academy in Saskatoon, as well as for some materials being taught at them — namely, a textbook stating that people and dinosaurs coexisted, and that the Loch Ness monster exists and is proof that dinosaurs still exist.
On Tuesday, Duncan said several chapters of the textbook in question meet the education standard, but that it is not a main resource being used.
The NDP also chastised the ministry in the legislature this week for appearing to muzzle a scientist. The ministry responded to a request CBC News had made for comment on the matter from a paleontologist at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, who had a government email address.
Duncan said his comments about the test scores at qualified independent schools were an attempt to show the curriculums and outcomes of those institutions are on par with other schools in the province.
"These are not marks that are inflated by the teachers in any particular school," Duncan said Thursday.
The NDP's Sarauer said there was a flaw with the minister's comparison, however.
"He knows full well that public and Catholic schools in our system do not get to pick and choose which students come just because they can afford it," she said. "They take every student in."
She added that Duncan is the minister responsible for education of all students, not just those at qualified independent schools.