The pass rate for most provincial assessments conducted in French-language schools has fallen sharply. Unsurprisingly, student learning has suffered from the disruption caused by the pandemic.
Overall, student achievement in learnings deemed essential has declined since COVID-19 hit in March 2020.
Only 61.6% of Grade 2 Francophone students achieve the expected level in reading aloud. In 2018-2019, the pass rate was 74.8%. In the 10-year education plan, published in 2016, it was expected to reach a rate of 90% in 2025-2026.
Only 54.1% of 6th graders achieved the expected results in mathematics, compared to 71.9% in 2018-2019. The pass rate also drops significantly for the Grade 3 math exam, the Grade 7 writing exam, and the Grade 8 math exam. Only the grade 3 reading exam and grade 7 writing exam rates increased slightly.
Due to school closures, not all assessments could be completed in 2019-20, and no results were available for 2020-21.
These figures come as no surprise at all to Nathalie Brideau, president of the Association of Francophone Teachers of New Brunswick. “There is nothing surprising given the school context of the last two years. Had it been otherwise, we would have been inclined to question the validity of the assessments.”
Learning outcomes in the Anglophone sector have remained more stable, but the comparison is not relevant because the levels involved and the assessments are not identical.
Minister Dominc Cardy has indicated that he wants to give stakeholders in the school system a few weeks to better assess remedial needs.
For Luc Caron, director general of the District scolaire francophone Sud, the term is not on the agenda. He warns that it will not be necessary to rely on a “miracle solution”, but rather on a “set of interventions”.
“The watchword is to make sure that the children are happy and are well at school and that they flourish,” he says.
“I don’t really like to talk about catching up, it involves a kind of race. Right away, we don’t want to race. We have young people who have experienced difficult situations during the pandemic, we must take them where they are and help them reach their highest potential. We want to make sure we put them in the best possible conditions.”
The message is similar on the AEFNB side. “What we are most concerned about is the mental health and well-being of the students, before you hit them on the head and tell them to learn, you have to know if they are doing well in school, if they are able to learn. What we want is stability for the future and additional resources,” says Nathalie Brideau.
The gap is widening
Chantal Varin, executive director of the Association francophone des parents du N.-B., disagrees.
“When parents were polled in January 2022, 62% were concerned about learning delays. We knew that distance learning accentuated the gap between students, we would have liked a catch-up plan from the start of the school year.
Sylvie Blain, professor at the Faculty of Education at the Université de Moncton, agrees. “There should be a clear remedial plan to guide teachers and set priorities,” she believes.
“We need specialized staff to help students in difficulty and good quality children’s books in the classroom.”
The academic is alarmed by the fact that the number of children in very great difficulty has increased rapidly. “The students most affected by confinement and the lack of learning are the most vulnerable students. Children who grow up in a family where reading is valued will eventually catch up.”
In 2019, PISA (Programme for International Learning Assessment) tests indicated that students in the province scored significantly below the national average.
Sylvie Blain recalls how essential the development of literacy skills in elementary school is. Reading difficulties can, for example, compromise the understanding of mathematical problems and affect a student’s academic career.
“It affects all subjects. Reading is the gateway to all knowledge,” insists the professor.
“In the longer term, it has an impact on our entire province. All jobs require a minimum level of literacy. If they are not resolved, reading difficulties at the start of school have an impact on productivity at work, but also on health.
Ms. Blain advises parents to encourage reading at home as much as possible, without trying to duplicate the role of the teacher.
“Parents are there to be role models,” she says. The children must see them holding a book or a newspaper, you must take them to the library, read with them, show them that reading is a pleasant activity!”