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Performance of Canadian youth in reading, mathematics and science

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Canadian 15-year-old students continue to perform well internationally and have strong skill sets in reading, mathematics and sciences.

Canada's results remained stable between 2000 and 2009. However, its relative ranking declined in all three assessment domains in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2009. This decline was attributable to improvements in the performance of other countries and to the introduction of new countries that had high performance levels.

On the combined reading scale, the major assessment domain, 4 countries outperformed Canada among the 65 that participated: Shanghai (China), Korea, Finland and Hong Kong (China). But Canadian results also indicated a decline in the proportion of high achievers in reading.

In mathematics and science, the Canadian students scored well above the OECD average. They were outperformed by seven countries in mathematics and six countries in science.

Several Canadian provinces experienced significant declines in the skill levels of their 15-year-olds, mostly in reading and in mathematics.


Results from PISA 2009 corroborate the findings from previous PISA cycles: Canada performed among top-level countries in reading. Canada had a mean score of 524 on the combined reading scale, well above the OECD average of 496, and was outperformed by Shanghai (China), Korea, Finland and Hong Kong (China).

There was significant variation in the level of performance among Canadian provinces. Students in nine provinces performed at or above the OECD average on the combined reading scale, while those in Prince Edward Island performed below the OECD average.

As with previous PISA results, female 15-year-old students continued to outperform their male counterparts in reading both nationally and across the provinces. Canadian females outperformed males by 34 score points, which was similar to the average gap of 33 points in OECD countries.

Canada had both a high proportion of students at the highest levels (Level 5 or above) and a low proportion of students at the lowest levels (below Level 2) compared with the OECD average. However, 1 in 10 Canadian students performed at a low reading level (below Level 2) and lacked some fundamental skills to prepare them to either enter the workforce or pursue postsecondary education.

Canada's overall mean performance in reading was not significantly different between 2000 and 2009. However, the proportion of high achievers (Level 4 and above) fell from 45% in 2000 to 40% in 2009.

In addition, Canada's relative performance declined. Among the countries that participated in both 2000 and 2009, only Finland outperformed Canada in reading in 2000. In 2009, Canada was outperformed by Korea, Finland and Hong Kong (China) as well as Shanghai (China), which participated for the first time.

Note to readers

Data in this release are from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). This is a collaborative effort among member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to provide policy-oriented international indicators of the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students.

In Canada, PISA is administered through a partnership of the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada and Statistics Canada.

It assesses youth outcomes in three domains (reading, mathematics and science) focusing on what students can do with what they have learned in school, at home, and in the community. Reading was the main focus of PISA 2009 and mathematics and science were also covered.

First implemented in 2000, PISA is repeated every three years. Each cycle provides detailed assessment in the major domain and summary assessments in the other two.

In total, 65 countries participated in PISA 2009, including all OECD countries. In Canada, about 23,000 15-year-old students from about 1,000 schools participated. A large sample was drawn in Canada so that information could be provided at both national and provincial levels.

The PISA 2009 included a direct assessment of students' skills, a student questionnaire, and a school questionnaire completed by principals. The school and student questionnaire were used to collect background and contextual information related to student performance.

Provincially, reading performance declined significantly in five provinces: Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Nevertheless, in Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, reading performance remained at or above the OECD average.

Mathematics and science

On average, Canadian 15-year-old students performed well in mathematics and science, the two minor domains in the 2009 PISA.

Canadian students had an average score of 527 in mathematics and 529 in science, well above the OECD average of 497 and 501, respectively.

Among the 65 countries that participated in PISA 2009, 7 outperformed Canada in mathematics, while 6 countries outperformed Canada in science.

Provincially, the mathematics and science performance of students in all provinces, except for Prince Edward Island, was at or above the OECD average.

In mathematics, students in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia performed above the OECD average. In science, students in Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia performed above the OECD average.

On average, male 15-year-old students outperformed females by 12 score points in mathematics, both across OECD countries and in Canada. This was a much smaller difference than the gender difference favouring females in reading.

In science, boys and girls had similar performance levels on average across OECD countries. However, in Canada, boys outperformed girls by 5 score points.

Between 2003 and 2009, the performance of Canadian students in mathematics and science remained stable. However, as a result of a lack of improvement in performance in Canada, coupled with increased performance in other countries, an additional two countries outperformed Canada in mathematics and science than in previous PISA assessments. Additionally, a few countries participating in PISA for the first time in 2009 outperformed Canada in both.

Provincially, performance levels in mathematics declined in six provinces between 2003 and 2009. However, two of these provinces, Alberta and British Columbia, continued to have strong performance in PISA 2009, well above the OECD average.

In science, performance levels declined significantly in Manitoba and Prince Edward Island.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey number 5060.

The report Measuring Up: Canadian Results of the OECD PISA Study: ”The Performance of Canada's Youth in Reading, Mathematics and Science: 2009 First Results for Canadians Aged 15” (81-590-X2010001, free), is now available online from the Key resource module of our website under Publications.

The report is also available on the websites of the Programme for International Student Assessment ( and the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (

For more information, or to enquire about concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Client Services (toll-free 1-800-307-3382; 613-951-7608; fax: 613-951-4441;, Tourism and the Centre for Education Statistics Division.