Canadian Students are Among the Best in Mathematics, Science, Reading, and Problem Solving, Major OECD Study Concludes


TORONTO, December 6, 2004 – A major international study released tonight in Paris shows that Canadian 15-year-old students rank among the top of forty-one countries surveyed in mathematics, science, reading, and problem solving.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), conducted in 2003 by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), tested over 272,000 students in the countries participating in this study. The primary focus of the 2003 study was on mathematics, with a secondary focus on science and reading. A test of problem-solving skills was also administered. In mathematics, only students in Hong Kong–China and Finland performed better than Canadian students in average test scores. As in PISA 2000, only one country, Finland, surpassed Canadian students in reading. In science and problem solving, Canadian students placed fifth.

Canada also released its own report today, based on the PISA results. This report contains detailed information on student performance in each province.

“In every domain tested, the majority of students in Canada have surpassed the OECD average,” noted the Honourable Pierre Reid, Quebec's Minister of Education and the Chair of CMEC. “The report provides us with important comparative data that we can use to gauge improvements in our education systems. The results also illustrate the quality of our teaching systems and indicate the commitment of the teaching staff whose work ensures that our students are among the best.”

“I am very pleased with Canada's results. Canada's performance demonstrates that Canadian youth have strong potential to work successfully in today's knowledge-based economy and have a solid foundation for pursuing lifelong learning,” said the Honourable Joe Volpe, Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development (HRSDC). Canadian participation in the PISA study, through the provinces, was made possible thanks to the close collaboration of the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC), Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, and Statistics Canada. Over 28,000 students from 1,000 different schools across Canada participated in the study.

“The PISA 2003 findings affirm that Canadian 15-year-old students continue to perform well internationally,” noted Scott Murray, Director General of the Institutions and Social Statistics Branch at Statistics Canada. “However, within Canada, the differences in performance between students of diverse backgrounds and the differences among provinces warrant further reflection to understand how all youth can develop their knowledge and skills to maximum potential.”

Some of the key findings about the performance of our students that the Canadian report highlights are the following:

  • In a number of areas, there is a considerable variance in overall performance among provinces.
  • In the mathematics assessment, there are relatively small gender differences in favour of boys.
  • As was the case in PISA 2000, there was a large difference favouring girls in reading in all provinces.
  • In science, boys performed better than girls in Canada overall, while there were no gender differences in problem solving in Canada overall. There were some significant gender differences in science and problem solving in a few provinces.
  • In mathematics performance, the main domain tested in 2003, there was no difference between English-language and French-language school systems except in one province.
  • Generally, in the other assessment areas, French-minority-language students in most provinces did not perform as well as their English-language counterparts.


The Canadian report also provides information on personal and school factors that influence a student's mathematics performance. Factors such as a student's level of self-confidence in mathematics or of anxiety can affect performance in this discipline. This information was gathered from the PISA questionnaire and the Youth in Transition Survey, which was conducted in Canada to complement PISA 2003.

Copies of the Canadian report, Measuring Up: Canadian Results of the OECD PISA Study, can be found at or on the Web sites listed below. CMEC, the provinces, HRSDC, and Statistics Canada will continue their partnership in order to ensure Canadian participation in the PISA 2006 assessment.

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Colin Bailey
Council of Ministers of Education, Canada
(416) 962-8100, ext. 259

Human Resources and Skills Development Canada
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(819) 994-5559

Statistics Canada
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