Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)

PISA 2003 involved about 272,000 students from 41 countries in the international assessment of the skills and knowledge of 15-year-olds.  In Canada, approximately 28,000 students in 1,000 schools in all ten provinces participated.  Mathematics was the major domain, with science and reading the minor domains.  In addition, a new minor domain of problem solving was introduced to complement the more academic subjects.  The test was given in French and English.

The four areas of the mathematics contact were defined as

  • space and shape
  • change and relationship
  • quantity
  • uncertainty

Information on students' learning preferences, home environment, and family characteristics was also collected.

The report, Measuring up: Canadian results of the OECD PISA 2003 study: The performance of Canada's youth in mathematics, reading, science and problem solving: first findings for Canadians aged 15 compares the achievement of Canadian students to that of students internationally, provides results at the provincial level, and offers information on the influences on student achievement.

  • Canada's results were consistent with the top-ranked countries
  • In the major domain of mathematics, among the 41 participating countries, only Hong Kong-China and Finland performed significantly better than Canada. Korea, Netherlands, Liechtenstein, Japan, Belgium, Macao-China, and Switzerland performed as well as Canada.
  • In the minor domain of reading, only Finland outperformed Canada, while in science and problem solving Finland, Japan, Hong Kong-China, and Korea had higher average scores than Canada.

Highlights of the pan-Canadian results include

  • All provinces performed at or above the OECD average in mathematics and reading and problem solving.  In science, nine provinces scored at or above the OECD average.   In each domain, there were notable provincial differences.
  • In Canada, as well as in a majority of other countries, boys outperformed girls in mathematics, but the difference was relatively small.
  • However, as was the case with PISA 2000, there was a relatively large difference favouring girls in reading in all Canadian provinces.
  • Boys scored higher than girls in science; there was no gender difference in problem solving.
  • There was no difference in mathematics performance between students in the English-language and French-language school systems except in one province, where the average performance of students in the French-language school system was below that of their peers in the English-language school system in mathematics, reading, science, and problem solving. The French language school systems included in PISA 2003 were Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, and Manitoba.
  • Although students from families with higher socioeconomic status tend to perform better in mathematics, these differences have a smaller impact on achievement than in other OECD countries.