New report confirms decline in student achievement

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Thursday, 15 Aug 2013

15 August 2013: A comprehensive new analysis from the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) has provided evidence beyond simple international rankings that the achievement levels of Australian students declined in the period 2000 to 2012. 

According to the report, Measure for Measure, while this decline was small, there were significant improvements in the achievement levels of students in a number of other countries during the same period.

Releasing the report, ACER chief executive Professor Geoff Masters said, rather than focus on international rankings, there is a need to relate these changes in achievement to developments in policy, practice and context that took place in the immediately preceding years.

Measure for Measure draws on major sources of achievement data that enable national comparisons over time. These include international surveys like the Programme for International Student Achievement, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study and the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, as well as Australia’s National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy and National Assessment Program sample surveys. The analysis found:

  • an overall decline in the reading and mathematics levels of Australian 15-year-olds
  • variation in the decline in the reading levels of Australian 15-year-olds, with greater declines in Tasmania, South Australia, New South Wales and the ACT than in Western Australia, the Northern Territory, Victoria and Queensland
  • a small improvement in Year 4 mathematics levels since 1994 and a small improvement in Year 3 reading levels from 2008 to 2012, and
  • a growing gap between the most advantaged and the least advantaged secondary schools in Australia.

“During the period for which data are available, students’ socioeconomic backgrounds became a stronger correlate of average achievement in Australian secondary schools,” said Professor Masters. “In other words, students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are likely to have lower average achievement.

“Analyses like Measure for Measure are vital if we are to better understand changes in the achievement levels of Australian students,” Professor Masters said. “In reading, for example, Measure for Measure identifies a need to better understand what some education systems are doing that makes them more effective.

“School funding reform is one of the crucial issues in the coming election. ACER’s Measure for Measure analysis underlines the importance of ensuring that the application of those funds is effective, particularly if we are to address evidence of a growing gap between schools.”

Measure for Measure was written by ACER Principal Research Fellow Dr John Ainley and ACER Senior Research Fellow Eveline Gebhardt. It is available as a free download from the ACER website at

Dr John Ainley is available for comment.


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