The Gallant government is claiming credit for improvements made by Grade 2 students on literacy assessments this year even though gains made fell short of its own minimum target and scores overall remain below those achieved under New Brunswick's last two provincial governments. 

"Thanks to the efforts of our government, the literacy level of New Brunswick students is improving," said Liberal MLA Bernard LeBlanc during member statements in the legislature last week about the new reading results.

"After years of declines, the results of Grade 2 students improved this year by one point nine percent."

Every spring, New Brunswick Grade 2 students are given a literacy assessment and this year of the 5,027 children in the English school system 75.7 per cent scored appropriate or above during testing.

That's 1.9 per centage points better than last year's result and reverses what had been six straight years of declining scores.   

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Liberal MLA Bernard LeBlanc said after years of decline the Grade 2 literacy results have improved.

That triggered LeBlanc's statement in the legislature and caused the province to produce a graphic crediting the improvement to three government initiatives.  

The illustration, tweeted out by Premier Brian Gallant earlier this month, described how a combination of $2 million in extra literacy funding, the creation of 35 literacy "leads" or coaches inside the school system and the adoption of a 10-year education plan had driven up the Grade 2 achievement level.

LeBlanc also made the same points in his address to the legislature. 

"These results prove one thing, Mr. Speaker — investing works better than cuts," LeBlanc said. 

Results still low

However, although better than last year, the Grade 2 literacy results are still low by recent standards.  

Overall the 2017 assessments registered the second worst score of the last decade, and look positive mostly because they beat what were slightly more dismal results in 2016. 

The 1.9 per cent improvement in 2017 did not meet the target of "at least 2 per cent" the province had set for itself and was a gain that only partially offsets a much larger 3.7 percentage point decline in the same assessment scores recorded during the Gallant government's first two years in office. 

Most of that decline was recorded following the government's first budget in March 2015 which cut 283 teaching positions in the public school system.

Still the province believes the improvement registered this year, even if smaller than hoped for and less than earlier declines it presided over, is a significant event. 

"The efforts of our departmental staff, districts, and school staff are showing very positive results at the Grade 2 level with provincial literacy assessment numbers increasing by 1.9 per cent," wrote Education spokesperson Kelly Cormier in an email to CBC News.

"This is a significant change in the trend, and reflects the concerted efforts to improve literacy instruction and learning at that level in the past year."

Scores declining

For several years the goal of the Grade 2 literacy assessment has been to have 90 per cent of students reading at an appropriate level or above.

However, scores have declined significantly since 2010 when 83.6 per cent of students achieved that level during the final year of Shawn Graham's Liberal government.   

That number fell to 77.5 per cent by the fourth year of  David Alward's Progressive Conservative government and has eroded further under Gallant to this year's level of 75.7 per cent.

Nancy Boucher is a former assistant deputy minister of education who is now helping to  implement the province's new education plan and says it is too early to say if Grade 2 literacy scores have turned a corner, but given recent history this year's modest improvement has sparked that hope.

"This is our first year so it is not a trend but hopefully this will be the beginning of a really good trend. We're reversing (a decline) that's been in place since 2010."