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Pan-Canadian Assessment Program (PCAP)

CMEC released the results of the third cycle of the Pan-Canadian Assessment Program, PCAP 2013 Report on the Pan-Canadian Assessment of Science, Reading, and Mathematics, on October 7, 2014.

In the spring of 2013, approximately 32,000 students in Grade 8 (Secondary II in Quebec) from over 1,500 schools across the country were tested. Science was the primary domain assessed, while reading and mathematics were the minor domains. All 10 Canadian provinces, but no territories, participated in the assessment.

The PCAP assessment is not tied to the curriculum of a particular province or territory but is instead a fair measurement of students' abilities to use their learning skills to solve real-life situations. It measures how well students are doing; it does not attempt to assess approaches to learning.

PCAP 2013 focused on science literacy, defined through three competencies (science inquiry, problem solving, and scientific reasoning); four subdomains (nature of science, life science, physical science, and Earth science); as well as attitudes about science and its role in society. Science performance levels were developed in consultation with independent experts in education and assessment and align broadly with internationally accepted practice. Provinces also worked to ensure that the unique qualities of our country's education systems are taken into account.

In PCAP 2013, the results for the science component are described in terms of four performance levels. These levels represent how well students are doing based on the cognitive demand and degree of difficulty of the test items. Performance level 2 is the expected level of performance for Grade 8 students. Level 1 represents the performance of students at a level below that expected of students in their grade-level group. Levels 3 and 4 represent higher levels of performance.

Some of the key findings about the performance of our students include the following:

  • At the pan-Canadian level, 91 per cent of students are achieving at or above their expected level of performance in science, that is to say, at level 2 or above. Almost 50 per cent of students are achieving above their expected level.
  • In most provinces with English majority-language school systems, students in the English systems do better in science and reading than students in the French systems. The reverse is true in mathematics: students in the French systems tend to outperform their English counterparts. In Quebec, science and reading results are the same in English and French systems, while students in the French system do better than those in the English system in math.
  • There was no gender gap in science and mathematics in Canada overall; however, consistent with other large-scale studies, girls performed better than boys in reading.

PCAP's three-year cycles began in 2007. With PCAP 2013, some analysis over time is now possible in mathematics and reading:

  • Mathematics: Between 2010 and 2013, there was an increase in mathematics achievement across Canada and in most jurisdictions. This positive change is found in both English- and French-language schools. In terms of gender, only girls demonstrated a significant increase in mathematics scores, while the achievement for boys did not significantly change over time.
  • Reading: Between 2007 and 2013, there was no difference in reading achievement across Canada, but results did show some improvement between 2010 and 2013. Overall, the changes over time in reading differed depending on language and gender.

PCAP 2013 also collected extensive contextual information from questionnaires completed by students, teachers, and principals. This information will be published in the coming months, as part of the “PCAP 2013 Contextual Report on Student Achievement in Science,” and should offer insight into some of the factors that may influence student performance. The “PCAP 2013 Technical Report” will be available next year.