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PISA 2022: Australian student performance stabilises while OECD average falls

Media release 6 minute read

An international assessment of students’ skills in mathematics, reading and science shows Australia may have stemmed a long-term decline in performance.

The OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has measured the mathematical, reading and scientific literacy of 15-year-old students every 3 years since 2000, delaying the most recent assessment by one year due to the pandemic. More than 690,000 students from 81 countries took part in PISA 2022, including a representative sample of 13,437 Australian students from 743 schools.

A report by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), which manages PISA in Australia, shows that despite the pandemic, Australian students’ performance has remained steady since the previous PISA cycle, while the average score across OECD countries has fallen significantly for mathematics and reading.

It is the second cycle of PISA in which Australia’s performance in mathematics and reading has been largely unchanged (covering from 2015 to 2018, and 2018 to 2022), with results in science similar to those in 2018, suggesting an end to the country’s steady decline in results since PISA began.

A fall in the achievement of many countries that were previously above or on par with Australia means its performance is now below that of only 9 other countries in mathematics (compared to 22 in 2018), and 8 other countries in reading and science. It is also back above the OECD average in mathematics, which was the major focus of this PISA cycle, after falling level with it in 2018.

‘While it’s encouraging that Australia’s results have stabilised, it’s important to recognise that our position in the top 10 is largely due to the performance of other countries dropping below ours,’ ACER Senior Research Fellow and report co-author Lisa De Bortoli says.

‘Just over half of Australian students achieved the National Proficient Standard – 51% in maths, 58% in science and 57% in reading – so a significant number of students are failing to demonstrate they have more than basic skills in those areas.

‘The fact that Australia’s performance is largely unchanged since 2015 may be good news in the context of the 2022 results, but it’s not the time for complacency.’

ACER Chief Executive Professor Geoff Masters AO, who this year published a study of 5 school systems that have performed highly in PISA, says a significant commitment to reform is required to lift student performance.

‘Many top-performing school systems – such as Estonia and Korea – have focused their improvement efforts on transforming the frameworks within which teachers and schools work,’ he says. ‘Their approach to teaching and learning gives greater priority to the development of deeper conceptual understanding and students’ abilities to apply what they learn across different contexts.’

Singapore was the highest achieving country in PISA 2022, with a mean score of 575 points in mathematics, 561 in science and 543 in reading, compared to Australia’s respective scores of 487, 507 and 498. Others that outperformed Australia on all domains included Japan, Korea, Estonia, Canada, Macao (China), and Chinese Taipei.

Out of 62 countries that performed above the lowest-performing OECD country, 38 showed a decline in students’ mathematical literacy between 2018 and 2022 – including the top performing countries of Macao (China), Hong Kong (China), Estonia and Canada.

Other key results:

  • The difference between the lowest and highest performing Australian students in mathematics (261 points) was greater than the OECD average (235 points) but similar to Singapore (268 points). In science and reading, the difference in Australia was greater than in Singapore and the OECD average.
  • 12% of Australian students performed at a high level in mathematics (compared to Singapore’s 41%) while 26% of Australian students were low performers (compared to Singapore’s 8%). 
  • 43% of Australian students in the lowest socioeconomic background quartile were low performers in mathematics.
  • 10% of Australia’s disadvantaged students were ‘academically resilient’, performing in the top quartile of achievement in mathematics – the same proportion as found in Singapore and the OECD average. Conversely, the proportion of Australian students from advantaged backgrounds who were low performers in mathematics was 12%, compared to 2% in Singapore and 14% across the OECD.
  • In mathematics, reading and science, Australian-born students of migrants and students born in other countries achieved at a similar level. Both groups outperformed other Australian-born students in mathematics and reading, with Australian-born students of migrants also outperforming other Australian-born students in science.
  • First Nations students scored 82 fewer points in mathematics than their counterparts, 84 fewer points in reading and 86 fewer points in science.

PISA 2022 was conducted by ACER in Australia on behalf of the OECD with funding from the Australian and state and territory governments. The Australian reports were released to coincide with the launch of the international PISA results by the OECD in Paris.

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NOTE: In PISA 2022, 12 countries did not achieve one or more of the required response rates for schools or students. Australia successfully achieved the required school response rate; however, for the first time, Australia did not achieve the required student response rate. Non-response bias analysis shows it is unlikely that the PISA results for Australia are inaccurate. However, it is not possible to exclude the possibility of a small upward bias.

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