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PISA results disappointing

ACER releases the latest report, PISA 2015: A first look at Australia's results, revealing a decline in science, reading and mathematics achievement of Australian students.

PISA measures how well 15 year olds around the world are prepared to use their knowledge and skills in science, reading and mathematics to meet real-life challenges. The same students who sat PISA 2015 also sat an assessment of financial literacy. Results on the performance of Australian students in these additional domains will be released in separate reports in 2017.

A combined total of more than half a million students from 72 countries and economies took part in PISA 2015, including a nationally representative sample of around 14 500 Australian students from 750 schools. Australia has now participated in all six cycles of PISA since its inception in 2000.

Comparing results internationally, ACER Director of Educational Monitoring and Research Dr SueThomson said that Australia performed equal 10th in science, equal 12th in reading and equal 20th in mathematics, after accounting for insignificant differences between countries and economies.

Singapore was the highest performing country in scientific, reading and mathematical literacy in PISA 2015. Singapore's students are ahead of Australia’s in scientific literacy by the equivalent of around one-and-a-half years of schooling, and are around one year of schooling ahead in reading literacy and around two-and-a-third years of schooling ahead in mathematical literacy.

Australia’s performance in scientific literacy – the major domain assessed in 2006, and again in 2015 – declined significantly, by the equivalent of around half a year of schooling. Twelve other countries have also seen a significant decline in their scientific literacy performance between PISA 2006 and PISA 2015.

"Results from the 2015 TIMMS released last week indicate that, although we are slipping backwards relative to other countries, Australian student achievement against the mathematics and science curriculum is unchanged," Thomson said.

"Results from PISA 2015 suggest the situation is much worse: Australian students' ability to apply their mathematical and scientific knowledge to real life situations is falling not only relative to other countries but also in an absolute sense."

There has been a three per cent decrease in the proportion of high performers and a five per cent increase in the proportion of low performers in scientific literacy from 2006 to 2015.

Only 61 per cent of Australian students achieved the National Proficient Standard in reading literacy. And 55 per cent of Australian students achieved the National Proficient Standard in mathematical literacy.

Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham pointed out that Australia continued to perform above the OECD average but that the PISA report paints a worrying trend into mathematical, reading and science literacy levels for Australian students.

The report will be a key part of discussions with states and territories next week about the Turnbull Government’s school quality reforms that focus on how best to target Australia’s investment in schools and improve student outcomes.

“It’s unacceptable and we need to change the debate away from one focused entirely on how much is spent to one that is focused much more on the reforms that need to be achieved to reverse these declines,” said Birmingham.

When comparing Australia’s states there was no decline in reading literacy between 2009 and 2015 for any state or territory except Queensland. In mathematical literacy, the ACT, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania experienced no significant change.

The Victorian government has released a statement celebrating the state’s relative improvement, with the PISA report showing scores for Victorian students in scientific, reading and mathematical literacy improving nationally since the last assessment.

ACER conducts PISA in Australia on behalf of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) with funding from the Australian, and state and territory governments.

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

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