NZ stabilises its position in top half of countries in latest PISA results.

New Zealand has stabilised its position among the top half of countries in the latest international study into educational achievement. We’ve also moved up the OECD rankings in maths, science and reading in the 2015 Programme of International Student Achievement (PISA) study.

New Zealand student performance was relatively consistent up to 2009. While we remained above the OECD average in maths, science and reading between 2009 and 2012 performance declined. The latest results show we’ve halted that trend and stabilised.

PISA, which looks at the achievement of 15 year olds, shows New Zealand has broken into the top ten rankings for reading against the 69 other countries in the study. New Zealand is 10th for reading achievement – up from 13th in 2012. New Zealand has also overtaken other countries in science with a ranking change from 18th to 12th and in maths from 23rd to 21st

Dr. Craig Jones, Deputy Secretary for Evidence, Data and Knowledge at the Ministry of Education welcomed the improvement in New Zealand’s country rankings shown in the latest PISA results.

“Our science and reading students have consolidated their place in the OECD rankings above students from advanced economies and education systems like Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, France and Switzerland,” Dr Jones says. “PISA results are an indicator of the overall performance of our education system, along with other international studies such as the recently reported TIMSS study in science and maths achievement.”

The average scores of the 15 year old students, tested in 2015, sit comfortably above the OECD average in all 3 subjects.

New Zealand scored: 513 in science while the average across countries was 493, 509 in reading compared to an international average of 493, and 495 in maths compared to an international average of 490.

“New Zealand has one of the highest proportions of top achievers across reading, maths and science. 6% of our students were in this category compared with an OECD average of 4%.

Furthermore, 20% of all students assessed are among the top performers in at least one of these subjects. This is better that the OECD average of 15%.

There is still more to do for certain groups of students however. We need to improve achievement rates for Māori and Pasifika students. Socio-economic status is a higher predictor of achievement than for many other countries, but the 2015 results show it plays less of a role than previously, which is a positive trend. 

The PISA findings give us part of the picture, but they are only a snapshot. We know that students in that same year group attained record high pass rates for NCEA Level 1 across all ethnicities last year,” Dr Jones says.

Our 15 year olds are also solid performers when it comes to the different areas of science that are assessed in PISA – physical systems, living systems and earth science. 

PISA tells us that more New Zealand students at this age are enjoying learning science than many of their OECD peers. This is showing a positive effect on their achievement.  

Similar to the Trends in International Science and Maths Study (TIMSS) released last week, PISA highlights that there is still more work to do to lift the achievement levels of Māori and Pasifika students who still, on average, have lower rates of achievement than other ethnic groups.

“Both the TIMSS and PISA data will provide us with plenty of additional insight into the strengths and weaknesses of New Zealand education. This will help inform our policy development going forward as we look at how to support our students further in succeeding in their educational endeavours,” Dr Jones says.

We are undertaking a series of initiatives already announced by the Minister. These include:

  • The targeting of operational funding to students most at risk of educational underachievement.
  • Communities of Learning | Kahui Ako are focused on learner-centred pathways, so all students can benefit from the best teaching practice and school leadership we have.
  • Another initiative that’s showing a lot of promise for the future of maths and science achievement is Curious Minds. This is a joint programme with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to increase school engagement in science, technology, engineering and maths (known as STEM).
  • Curious Minds is encouraging more girls into STEM subjects, enabling students to learn directly from technology intensive businesses in their community, linking science to Māori language, culture and identity, and funding projects that give students STEM learning opportunities.

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