The release of the 2015 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) results overnight has seen the gap between students from advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds remain, with students from the lowest socioeconomic quartile on average approximately three years behind students from the highest socioeconomic quartile across all three PISA domains.
The change in Australia’s overall scores is due to a decrease in the proportion of high achievers and an increase in the proportion of low achievers.
As ACER Director Sue Thompson says, “The difference between advantaged and disadvantaged students is around three years of schooling. That’s not changed in 16 years of testing (for reading). That’s the critical thing. We’re still not attending to those gaps.”
Students from the lowest socioeconomic quartile are two to three times more likely to be below Level 3 in PISA, which is Australia’s agreed national proficient standard representing a “challenging but reasonable” expectation of student achievement at age 15.
Overall, approximately four out of 10 Australian students are below the national proficient standard.
Mathematical literacy results for Australian students in the highest socioeconomic quartile are significantly higher than the OECD average (approximately one-and-a-half years above), while results for Australian students in the lowest socioeconomic quartile are significantly lower (approximately one year below). Scientific and reading literacy results show similar trends.
The difference between Australian students in metropolitan schools and those in regional schools is approximately one year of schooling. Indigenous students are more than two years behind their non-Indigenous counterparts.
Australia performed equal 10th in science (down from eighth in 2012), equal 12th in reading (down from 10th in 2012) and equal 20th in mathematics (down from 17th in 2012).
The PISA results follow the release of the 2015 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) last week, which showed that Years 4 and 8 students’ achievement in the mathematics and scientific curriculum has flat-lined, while many other countries improved.
PISA shows that students from the highest performing country, Singapore, are on average one-and-a-half years ahead of Australian students in scientific literacy, one year ahead in reading literacy and two-and-a-third years ahead in mathematical literacy.
Chief Executive of the Australian Council of Educational Research (ACER) Geoff Masters asks, “What will it take to lift achievement levels in Australian schools?
“This in turn will depend on teachers who are knowledgeable about the subjects they teach, who have the diagnostic skills to analyse learning difficulties and who are able to implement highly effective teaching interventions.”
PISA provides a useful comparison to look overseas at the characteristics of high-performing systems and how they can be adapted to the Australian context.
Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Teach For All Wendy Kopp finds, “For global issues like public health or the environment, there are robust channels for sharing knowledge and best practices among communities around the world.
“But this simply isn’t the case for education. Too often, innovative ideas and new approaches never see the light of day beyond a specific community or country.
According to Geoff Masters, “…part of the long-term solution is to increase the capacity of the Australian teaching workforce. High-performing countries have been remarkably successful in raising the status of teaching and attracting highly able people into teaching.
“Higher order skills and deep understandings of subject matter depend on highly knowledgeable teachers. We must learn from international experience and make it a national priority to increase the number of highly able young people choosing to become teachers.”