Monday, 13 Jul 2009

For immediate release Monday 13 July 2009
Indigenous students face substantial disadvantage

A summary of Indigenous students’ results in international tests of reading, mathematical and scientific literacy suggests that initiatives to improve the education of Indigenous students have, to date, had little effect.

According to the report, released today by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), Indigenous students remain overrepresented at the lower levels and underrepresented at the upper levels of proficiency. Performance of Indigenous students has not improved over time.

The report brings together analyses of the achievement of Indigenous students in reading, mathematical and scientific literacy in each of the three cycles of the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) conducted in 2000, 2003 and 2006.

Across the three PISA cycles, Indigenous students performed, on average, more than 80 score points lower than non-Indigenous students and more than 50 score points lower than the OECD average.

“In terms of years of schooling, this represents a gap of around two years between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students,” said Dr John Ainley, ACER’s Deputy CEO (Research). “In terms of future opportunities, a large number of Indigenous students remain at a substantial disadvantage.”

“While lower average performance and attainment among Indigenous students in Australia in comparison to their non-Indigenous peers is not a new finding, these findings reinforce the need for this disparity to be addressed,” Dr Ainley said.

Of particular concern, more than one third of Indigenous students did not achieve a proficiency level in reading, mathematics and science literacy considered to be the minimum level necessary to meet the challenges faced in life beyond school.

In 2000, 493 Indigenous students took part in PISA followed by 815 in 2003 and 1080 in 2006. Among participating Indigenous students, there were similar numbers of male and female students in each cycle.

The distribution of Indigenous students by socioeconomic background was found to be substantially skewed, with 44 per cent of Indigenous students classified in the lowest socioeconomic group, compared to 25 per cent of students overall in Australia.

The achievement of Australia’s Indigenous students in PISA 2000-2006 by Lisa De Bortoli and Sue Thomson is available from the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) National PISA website at

A further report to be released later in 2009 will examine both the attitudes of Indigenous students towards school and the extent to which socioeconomic background and other factors explain their low average levels of achievement.