It appears the Liberal government still has some way to go if it is going to meet its goal of having the best education system in the world. The province isn’t dropping down the scale, but it isn’t climbing any either, according to the 2006 PISA results.

The international assessment tested more than 400,000 15-year-olds in 57 countries in 2006, with a particular focus on science. Reading and mathematics ability were also studied. Canada finished third overall in the science category, fourth in reading, and seventh in mathematics, but New Brunswick again found itself at the bottom of the Canadian heap and much further down the international scale.

In science, New Brunswick was the lowest ranked Canadian province, slipping in just below 20th ranked Ireland. In reading, New Brunswick was ahead of Prince Edward Island, but below 15th ranked Japan, and in math the province climbed above both P.E.I. and Nova Scotia, to rank behind Iceland’s number 17 spot.

Bobby O’Keefe, a senior policy analyst with the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, says New Brunswick’s scores have remained consistent since 2000, moving neither up, nor down.

The Maritime provinces have also consistently remained the bottom three in Canada.

Their poorer performance against other Canadian provinces has partially been attributed to socio-economic factors, but O’Keefe points out that Newfoundland, which also used to inhabit the bottom of the scale, has pulled itself up to around fifth or sixth place.

“If you look at the socio-economic differences (between Newfoundland and Labrador and the other Maritime provinces), they aren’t there, so there is something they are doing,” he says. “One of the things we have pointed to is that they have mandated that they have to start looking at data and using data and have made the most effort in making data public… They’ve really made an effort to do more with what they have.”

O’Keefe says Canada typically does pretty well on the PISA results.

“If you look at Canada’s results, they are reasonably consistent. There is a bit of a drop off this time. Science seemed to pick up, but in reading and math a few countries have started to pass us by again,” he says. O’Keefe says its not time to worry yet, but its definitely something to keep an eye on.

One of the things O’Keefe does find worrisome is the gap in results between the English and French language school systems.

“There does seem to be quite a difference in some of the provinces,” he says. “The gaps that are there are certainly something education systems would want to look at.”

Students in the minority language system had significantly lower scores. In New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Manitoba students in the French language system had science scores between 29 and 46 points lower than their counterparts in the English language system.

In Quebec, students in the English language school system were 13 points behind.

The gap was 34 points in New Brunswick, which means students in the French language system were an entire academic year behind those in the English language system. (On the PISA science assessment a difference of 34 points is equal to an additional school year.)

In science overall, Canada was 29 points behind first place Finland, which means though the country is doing well in comparison to the rest of the countries on the list, it still has a long way to go to catch up with the best in the world.

“We’re almost a full year of study behind the first place country. That is almost staggering,” O’Keefe says.

In the Canadian context, New Brunswick was 44 points behind top ranked Alberta in science.

“When you are looking at students in New Brunswick having a year or more gap, then there is definitely something that should be looked at to try and help close that gap,” O’Keefe says.