Manitoba students last in Canada in science and math, second last in reading

Manitoba scored dead last in math and science, and second last in reading when compared to the rest of Canada, according to new international student test results released Tuesday.

Results show Manitoba doing worse in all three categories than in previous years

The PISA 2018 assessment tests the capabilities of 15-year-olds in reading, math and science literacy through a two-hour computer-based test. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

Manitoba students scored dead last in math and science and second last in reading when compared to their Canadian peers, according to new student test results released Tuesday.

The results of the latest Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) show Manitoba's test scores are among the worst in the country. This continues a trend that has plagued the province for the past decade.

It shows Manitoba test scores have worsened in every category since the last PISA assessment in 2015. Those results ranked Manitoba second last in Canada in both science and reading and third last in math.

The PISA 2018 assessment — conducted by member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) — tests the capabilities of 15-year-olds in reading, math and science literacy through a two-hour computer-based test. 

The results released Tuesday morning show Manitoba students are performing below the Canadian average in all three categories.

'Not acceptable': education minister

The outcomes are not acceptable, says provincial Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen.

"I think that indicates clearly that educators are concerned about our education outcomes. We knew these results were sliding for more than a decade," he said following question period at the legislature on Tuesday.

He said he takes responsibility for some of the poor test scores, but also argued that the NDP would have been in power during most of the school years of the students tested. 

Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen said the testing results were unacceptable. (John Einarson/CBC )

But opposition parties placed the blame on the governing Progressive Conservatives.

NDP education critic Nello Altomare accused the government of failing to fill teaching positions, adding that the 20-student cap for kindergarten to Grade 3 classes should be reinstated. 

"We know that investing in early childhood education pays the most dividends."

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said one of the factors leading to low test scores is too many kids living in poverty.

"The fact is we have too many kids who show up at school hungry, but there are also too many kids who can't read, and part of that is because their parents can't read."

Going forward, Goertzen said the province will have to look at what's being taught in the classroom as well as other challenges, such as poverty, impacting students' education.

He said the province's review of the K-12 education system will explore those issues. 

However, Manitoba Teachers' Society president James Bedford criticized the report, arguing it's not a good evaluation of student achievement here because Manitoba's curriculum is unique to the province.

But he also said that he agreed that poverty disrupts the ability of students to learn. 

"Childhood poverty has a huge impact on education. It's difficult to educate a child who comes to school hungry, who comes to school tired. Retention isn't good. Memory isn't good. The basic capacity to learn is not that good."

Watch the full TV story from CBC reporter Austin Grabish here: 

New report show Manitoba student test scores are among the worst in the country.

3 years ago
Duration 2:32
Manitoba students are dead last in math and science when compared to their Canadian peers. The overall results show Manitoba's test scores are among the worst in the country.

Performing below OECD average in math, science

New Brunswick is the only province whose students had worse test scores than Manitoba in reading, according to the PISA test results.

They show New Brunswick (22 per cent) and Manitoba (20 per cent) had the highest percentages of "low achievers" in reading, meaning their results "did not reach the baseline level of reading proficiency that is required to participate fully in modern society," according to the report.

Manitoba fared even worse in science and math.

Manitoba had the largest proportion of low achievers in math, at 25 per cent, and in science, at 21 per cent. The average in Canada is 16 and 13 per cent, respectively. Manitoba students are performing below the OECD average in both categories.

The PISA tests were conducted in April and May in 2018 and tested almost 3,000 students in Manitoba. Overall, more than 22,000 Canadian students participated in the international testing.

The test, which includes more than 79 countries, is conducted every three years and is one of two pan-Canadian tests typically used to measure Manitoba students' abilities against their Canadian peers. 

The second is the Council of Ministers of Education's pan-Canadian assessments, which is due late next year and tests Grade 8 students across the country. 

The Council of Ministers of Education's pan-Canadian assessments in 2014 showed Manitoba was dead last in math, science and reading in their standardized tests. The results created a firestorm in the province and a pledge from the NDP government to implement changes to the system. 

Watch then-opposition leader Brian Pallister slam the NDP over test scores in 2014:

Manitoba students worst in Canada in math, science and reading

8 years ago
Duration 1:55
Manitoba has the worst scores in math, science and reading, according to a national report on education.

Then-opposition leader Brian Pallister blasted the NDP over the 2014 results, telling the Winnipeg Free Press the results were "more than a wake-up call."

"They're a compelling indictment of the lack of progress and the lack of action on the part of this provincial government," Pallister said in October of 2014.

Read the full report here: 

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Kristin Annable is a member of CBC's investigative unit based in Winnipeg. She can be reached at

With files from Austin Grabish


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