Quebec study of post-reform students yields disappointing results

By Janet Bagnall | Published October 9, 2012 by The Montreal Gazette

MONTREAL — Several years into Quebec’s controversial education reform — under which students are to learn to think for themselves and not just memorize facts — the farthest one of the researchers evaluating it will venture is: “It’s too soon to tell.”

The researcher, Simon Larose, a professor at Université Laval’s education department, is in charge of a longitudinal study of francophone and anglophone students across the province as they make their way through high school. The study compares 2,000 students in a pre-reform cohort, from 2004-05, with two later groups of 2,000 students each, one from 2006-07, the other from 2007-08, who started high school under the reformed curriculum. (The reform was introduced in secondary school in 2005-06 and in elementary school in 2000-01.)

This week, researchers brought out two new studies: one that tested the pre-reform and reform groups’ knowledge of math; the other comparing the groups’ written French proficiency. Anyone hoping the reform was leading to improved results was in for a disappointment.

“For the moment, there is not much change (between pre-reform and reform results) and what there is isn’t positive,” Larose said.

Questions for the math test were taken from the international PISA study which evaluates education systems worldwide every three years, testing 15-year-olds’ skills in reading, mathematics and science.

“We found very, very small differences between the pre-reform and reform groups, but the differences we found reflected a poorer performance by the reform groups,” Larose said. Among the two reform cohorts there was an additional, worrying tendency: youngsters from deprived areas performed significantly worse on the test. Their results might be a consequence of resources being diverted from student support programs while the reform was being put in place, Larose said.

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