PISA identifies challenges for Australian education

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Tuesday, 7 Dec 2010

For release 21:00 AEDT Tuesday 7th December 2010

PISA identifies challenges for Australian education

The reading literacy of Australian 15-year-old students has fallen sharply over the past decade results from the 2009 administration of the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) reveal.

The Australian national report, released this evening by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), shows Australia’s results have also slipped in mathematics but held ground in science.

PISA measures how well 15-year-olds from across the globe are prepared to use their knowledge and skills in reading, mathematics and science to meet real-life challenges near the end of compulsory schooling.

Sixty-five OECD and partner countries took part in PISA 2009 including a nationally representative sample of around 14,000 Australian students from 353 schools. Australia has now participated in four cycles of PISA since its inception in 2000.

“Australian students are still performing well above the OECD average but their results in reading literacy and mathematical literacy have declined significantly over recent years,” ACER chief executive Professor Geoff Masters said.

Australian students scored an average of 515 points on the 2009 reading assessments, compared to the OECD average of 493 points. Australia’s overall performance declined by 13 score points from 2000 to 2009. The decline is primarily among higher achieving students and is more evident in some states than others.

“Australia was the only high performing country to show a significant decline in reading literacy performance between PISA 2000 and PISA 2009,” Professor Masters said.

In mathematics Australian students achieved an average score of 514 points, significantly higher than the OECD average of 496. The result was similar to that achieved in 2006 but down on the 2003 result.  The performance of Australian students in scientific literacy remained unchanged from PISA 2006 to PISA 2009 with an average score of 527 points.

Very significant gaps in achievement remain between Australian students by gender, Indigenous status, location and wealth. In some cases these are equivalent to several years of schooling.

The average reading performance of Indigenous students was significantly lower, by more than two years of schooling, than that of non-Indigenous students. A similar gap in achievement was found for mathematics and science literacy. 

In addition, there is a large gender gap in mathematics, with boys outperforming girls that was present in PISA 2006, but before then had not been seen for many years. In reading literacy boys trail girls by the equivalent of around one year of schooling.

Of greatest concern, students from the highest socioeconomic group outperformed students from the lowest socioeconomic group in reading by the equivalent of almost three full years of schooling.

“These achievement gaps place an unacceptable proportion of 15-year-old students at serious risk of not achieving literacy levels sufficient for them to effectively participate in the workforce,” Professor Masters said.

“Some Australian teenagers may be trying to enter the workforce and forge a future for themselves with reading, mathematics and science literacy skills equivalent to a Year 7 or 8 education or worse.”

The Australian national report, PISA 2009: Challenges for Australian education by Sue Thomson, Lisa DeBortoli, Marina Nicholas, Kylie Hillman and Sarah Buckley, and further information about the PISA assessment is available from the Australian PISA website http://www.acer.edu.au/ozpisa .

The Australian report was released to coincide with the launch of the international PISA study by the OECD in Paris.

ACER conducts PISA in Australia on behalf of the OECD with funding from the commonwealth and state and territory governments.

Full report
Challenges for Australian Education: Results from PISA 2009 (PDF: 339 pages, 9.9 MB)
Sue Thomson, Lisa De Bortoli, Marina Nicholas, Kylie Hillman, Sarah Buckley

PISA in Brief
Highlights from the full Australian Report: Challenges for Australian Education: Results from PISA 2009 (PDF: 24 pages, 3.6 MB)
Sue Thomson, Lisa De Bortoli, Marina Nicholas, Kylie Hillman, Sarah Buckley


Media enquiries: Louise Reynolds 03 9277 5582 or 0419 340 058 reynolds@acer.edu.au