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Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA): Results from PISA 2018

Country note: Canada

February 26, 202026 February 2020

Reading / writing / publishing and literacy

Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development


F. Avvisati, A. Echazarra, P. Givord and M. Schwabe

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The performance of Canadian 15-year-olds in reading, science, and mathematics in 2018 is examined in this report, with international comparisons from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD’s) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). PISA is a triennial survey of students in 79 countries, including 22,653 Canadian students from 914 schools in 2018.

The assessment found that “students in Canada scored higher than the OECD average” in all three subjects. This summary focuses on the reading assessment.

Concerning reading skill level, 86% of Canadian students attained at least Level 2 proficiency, which was “significantly” higher than the OECD average of 77%. Level 2 proficiency means that “at a minimum, these students can identify the main idea in a text of moderate length, find information based on explicit, though sometimes complex criteria, and can reflect on the purpose and form of texts when explicitly directed to do so”.

The assessment found that 15% of Canadian students were top performers in reading, compared with the OECD average of 9%. Top performers in reading are students at Level 5 or Level 6: “at these levels, students can comprehend lengthy texts, deal with concepts that are abstract or counterintuitive, and establish distinctions between fact and opinion, based on implicit cues pertaining to the content or source of the information”.

The assessment examined socioeconomic factors in students’ performance, based on an additional “background questionnaire”, finding that 24% of advantaged students in Canada achieved top performance in reading (Level 5 and 6), compared with 7% of disadvantaged students. The average across OECD countries was 17% of advantaged students and 3% of disadvantaged students.

In Canada, the percentage of students who are immigrants increased from 24% of students in 2009 to 35% in 2018. The assessment found that 26% of immigrant students performed at the top quarter of reading performance, compared with the OECD average of 17%.

Regarding trends over time, the assessment found that while Canadian students’ performance in mathematics and science have declined since 2003, “in reading, no significant overall direction of the trend could be determined, and performance remained at least 20 points above the OECD average performance in every PISA year”. Canadian girls have continued to outperform boys in the reading assessment, with a consistent gap between girls’ and boys’ reading scores since 2009.

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