1 in 7 P.E.I. students excluded from writing PISA test
P.E.I. "PISA 2015 results are recognized as valid and reliable by the PISA consortium"
Prince Edward Island exempted students from writing the PISA exam in 2015 at a rate almost three times the maximum allowed according to the quality standards set out by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
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P.E.I.'s exemption rate of 14.3 per cent, or one out of every seven eligible students, was the highest in Canada, and higher than the exclusion rate in any of the countries tested. The United Kingdom had the highest national rate of excluding students at 8.2 per cent. Canada had the third highest national rate at 7.5 per cent, also above the OECD's maximum.
A total of 392 Island students were randomly selected to write the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test in 2015. However, before those students were selected, a number of Island students — representing 14.3 per cent of the eligible student population of 15-year-olds — were excluded from the selection process.
In the last round of PISA testing in 2012, P.E.I. exempted 8.3 per cent of eligible students from writing the test.
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Concerns were raised in this year's PISA report prepared by the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada. P.E.I.'s Education Minister Doug Currie is the current chair of the council.
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"Steps will be required in future PISA cycles to address the issue of high exclusion rates for schools and students in some provinces," the CMEC report noted.
B.C. had the second-highest exclusion rate in the country, at 11.1 per cent. New Brunswick had the third-highest rate, at 8.4 per cent.
Why were students excluded?
The OECD provides for three categories of students who can be excluded from writing PISA:
- Students with a physical disability that limits their ability to write the test
- Students who have an intellectual, mental or emotional disability and are cognitively delayed
- Students with a limited proficiency in the assessment language.
Most of P.E.I.'s excluded students — 11.7 per cent — were under the category of "students who have an intellectual disability."
Students cannot be excluded from PISA 'solely because of low proficiency or common disciplinary problems.'- OECD
Elizabeth Costa, the province's manager of achievement and accountability with the Department of Education, provided an email to CBC News explaining that "P.E.I. has a highly inclusive school system where children with cognitive disabilities are included in our regular schools."
"We do not have special needs schools in our province, nor do we exclude entire schools. We have the highest school response rate and the random sample includes all 15-year-old students attending those schools," she wrote.
The OECD quality standards for PISA allow for exclusions at both the school and student levels. For example, jurisdictions with schools for students with intellectual disabilities can have those schools excluded from the selection process.
However, the PISA standards indicate that school-level and student-level exclusions combined should not exceed 5 per cent of the target population.
As a further explanation, Costa suggested students might have been excluded because they are on a modified program, individualized education plan, or otherwise not following the usual grade-level curriculum.
She said that is the policy followed for provincial assessments, where she said exclusion rates are in the range of nine to ten per cent.
According to the OECD, students cannot be excluded from PISA "solely because of low proficiency or common disciplinary problems."
Costa said decisions on whether to exclude students from writing PISA were made by qualified staff at each individual school.
The P.E.I. Department of Education also forwarded an email to CBC News from the Canadian Council of Ministers of Education, which reads, "Prince Edward Island PISA 2015 results are recognized as valid and reliable by the PISA consortium".
The email from a department spokesperson adds, "With a very inclusive education system, it is not surprising that our exclusion rate is high, but at the same time we have the highest participation rate in the country,"
Province criticized before over excluding students
A consultant's report commissioned by P.E.I.'s education minister and delivered earlier this year also raised concerns about the number of Island students exempted from writing PISA and provincial common assessments.
"At the secondary school level, students in Prince Edward Island's schools perform well, but this is accompanied by an exemption rate (with respect to participation in province tests for students) that is unusually high," the report from Michael Fullan and Mary Jean Gallagher notes.
"There is also a relatively large number of students from PEI who begin their university careers and leave by second year. While there are likely a number of factors, some social or environmental, involved in this phenomenon, it does raise questions about whether the expectations and standards of performance expected of the province's graduates are as strong as those in some other parts of our country."
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