Data sources, methods and definitions

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Data sources

Through its triennial survey of 15-year-old students around the world, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) assesses the extent to which students near the end of compulsory education have acquired key knowledge and skills that are essential for full participation in modern society. The assessment covers reading, mathematics, science and problem-solving, and focuses on one of these three domains in any given survey.

The 2003 and 2012 PISA surveys focused on mathematics, with reading, science and problem-solving as minor areas of assessment. PISA measures mathematics skills in terms of “the capacity of individuals to formulate, employ and interpret mathematics in a variety of contexts.” This includes the capacity “of individuals to reason mathematically and use mathematical concepts, procedures, facts and tools to describe, explain and predict phenomena”.Note 1 Students are evaluated across four overarching dimensions that relate to numbers, algebra and geometry: quantity, space and shape, change and relationships, and uncertainty and data. The PISA math scores are standardized with an average of 500 points and a standard deviation of 100 for the total sample from all participating OECD countries in 2003. In the 2012 PISA, the average was 494 for all OECD countries and 521 for Canada. In the pooled 2003 and 2012 PISA data, there were 3,100 immigrant students who arrived during their childhood (before the age of 15) and 35,260 third- or higher-generation students. At the regional level, the sample size for immigrants who arrived before the age of 15 ranged from 250 in the Atlantic provinces to 860 in Ontario.

Reading literacy was the focus of the 2000 and 2009 PISA surveys. PISA defines reading literacy as the ability to understand, use and reflect upon written texts. Specifically, reading ability is measured in three major domains: (1) the ability to read various types of text, including different types of prose, forms, charts and diagrams; (2) the ability to retrieve, understand, interpret and reflect upon text; and (3) the ability to be able to relate the text to its intended use (for example, documents for private use, public use, work-related use or educational purposes). In the pooled 2000 and 2009 PISA data, there were 3,210 childhood immigrant students and 39,030 third- or higher-generation students. At the regional level, the sample size for immigrants who immigrated before the age of 15 ranged from 170 in the Atlantic provinces to 940 in Ontario.

The 2011 National Household Survey is used to compare the high school and university completion rates of young immigrants who immigrated during their childhood (before the age of 15) with third- or higher-generation Canadians.Note 2 The sample size was 39,300 for immigrants aged 20 to 24, 32,700 for immigrants aged 25 to 29, 276,500 for third- or higher-generation individuals aged 20 to 24, and 263,100 for third- or higher-generation individuals aged 25 to 29. Immigrant source regions are classified into 14 groups: North America, Caribbean, Central and South America, Northern Europe, Western Europe, Southern Europe, Eastern Europe, Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, East Asia, West Asia, Oceania and others.

Additional analyses were also conducted for Canadian-born students with two immigrant parents (the second generation) or with one immigrant parent and one Canadian-born parent (also called the “2.5 generation”), but differences in education outcomes between second-generation or 2.5-generation immigrants and third- or higher-generation students varied little across regions. Readers should keep in mind, however, that immigrant parents of second- or 2.5-generation students mostly arrived before the 1990s and did not come from the same source countries as the parents of immigrants who arrived before the age of 15.


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