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Alberta students tie for top place in country for computer-based problem-solving

By: Allison Chorney

  |  Posted: Thursday, Apr 10, 2014 11:33 am

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On April 1, the Province issued a press release outlining the latest results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). The results indicated Alberta students have tied for first place in the country and fourth in the world for the computer-based problem-solving component of the assessment.

“Alberta students continue to benefit from our focus on helping them make sense of complex information and solve real-life problems,” said Education Minister Jeff Johnson in the release. “Through Inspiring Education and Curriculum Redesign, we’ll continue building on this strong performance by providing students with even more opportunities to apply knowledge and understand how different subject areas relate to each other.”

However, Chestermere MLA and education critic Bruce McAllister said the release is, “smoke and mirrors to deflect away from the obvious results in the classroom that Albertans are fearful of.”

He said it’s great that Alberta students are doing well in this component but added, “It is important to note the computer-based portion doesn’t test on math. These aren’t math problems.”

The PISA is administered every three years by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and these latest results are the final component to the 2012 test, which included participation from about 2,900 Alberta students from public, separate, francophone, charter and private schools in the spring of 2012.

An OECD release about computer-based component states the test involved real-life scenarios to measure the skills youth will use when faced with everyday problems, such as setting a thermostat or finding the quickest route to a destination.

“Here’s the reality,” McAllister said, “the government of Alberta is hearing loud and clear from tens of thousands of Alberta parents that there is something wrong in the classroom. Parents know full and well the fundamentals are not being taught anymore.”

He refers to the petition from medical doctor Dr. Nhung Tran-Davies, which calls for an overhaul of the math curriculum from discovery-based learning, back to mastering the fundamentals of mathematics. As of April 3, the petition had close to 12,500 signatures.

In December 2013, OECD released results from the math, reading and science components of the PISA, which indicated Alberta students had dropped in ranking in all three subjects from the 2009 results.

Alberta fell from eighth place in the world in math to 11th place in 2012. In science, the province’s students fell from second in the world in 2009 to fifth in 2012, and in reading they dropped from second in the world to fourth.

McAllister said by highlighting the computer-based results, the government is hoping to distract from these earlier results.

“Albertans aren’t fooled by this,” he said.

“All we’re asking is they need to put the basics back into the classroom in September.”

However, Education Press Secretary Dan Powers said the Wildrose party is not seeing the whole picture and is quick to discount positives.

“It’s interesting to note the silence from the Wildrose on this,” Powers said. “These results are tremendously positive. They show Alberta students are among the best problem solvers in the world.”

He said the problem-solving skills Alberta students have displayed in the PISA are an important part of education and will help students in the future.

“The fact of the matter is Alberta has one of the strongest education systems in Canada and one of the best in the world.”

For a complete report on the 2012 PISA results, visit


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