Australian students’ maths performance falls to OECD average in worst result since 2000 | Australia news
Australian students’ performance in mathematics has fallen to the OECD average, the first time results in one of the three core competencies has done so since international comparisons began in 2000.
There are now 10 countries with “significantly higher” results in reading than Australia, 23 in maths and 12 in science.
The federal education minister, Dan Tehan, said the results were “very disappointing” and “should have alarm bells ringing” but pushed responsibility on to the states rather than revisiting the issue of federal funding to improve results.
Tehan said that the education council meeting of ministers next week “provides the opportunity to reset” the agenda, calling on states to be “bold” and sign up to reforms proposed in the second Gonski report including to implement a curriculum broken up into smaller “learning progressions”.
But Australian Education Union federal president, Correna Haythorpe, said “extra teaching resources that would become available by ensuring that all schools are funded at the [schools resourcing standard] benchmark is key in closing this performance gap”.
The Pisa test makes international comparisons between 15-year-old students, who are nearing the end of compulsory schooling. In 2018, some 600,000 students in 79 countries were tested, including an Australian sample of 14,273 students in 740 schools.
Compared with students in the highest performing country, Singapore, Australian students are one and a third years behind in reading, around three years behind in mathematics and one and three quarter years behind in science.
The Australian Council for Educational Research deputy chief executive, Sue Thomson, said Australia was “a developed, wealthy western country with justifiably high aspirations for our students so we must take notice of these results”.
Since testing began in 2000, five countries which were on par in mathematics overtook Australia, while of the 16 countries with lower maths scores, nine now outperform Australia and seven are on par with Australia.
In maths a “significant gender gap” which had closed in 2015 opened back up in the 2018 tests in favour of male students. Maths results were down in all states and territories with South Australia, New South Wales, Tasmania, Western Australia and the Australian Capital Territory recording the biggest declines.
In reading and science, Australia’s average scores (503) were still ahead of the OECD averages of 487 and 489 respectively.
Average performance in reading was down in all states and territories except Victoria, Queensland and the Northern Territory, and in science everywhere except Victoria and the NT.
Labor’s shadow education minister, Tanya Plibersek, said the results were “a huge wake-up call for Scott Morrison and the Liberals, who’ve seen school test scores plummet on their watch”.
“If our kids can’t read, write, and do maths and science, then we’ve failed.”
Haythorpe said the results showed a gap in the performance of students from higher socioeconomic backgrounds compared with those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.
“Federal Coalition budget cuts have had a deep impact on public schools. We need to invest in our schools to close the education gaps between high SES and low SES students.”
Tehan flagged federal pressure on the states to advance a raft of reforms including implementing the Gonski report, embed phonics as part of teacher training, and decluttering curriculums to “get back to basics”.
“Australia should be a leader in school education,” he said. “Our students should be ranked among the best in the world. We should not accept anything less.
“My message to the state and territory education ministers is this: leave the teachers’ union talking points at home and be ambitious.
“Money is not the issue because Estonia was the top-performing country in reading and science and they spend half as much money per student as Australia.”
But Thomson told Guardian Australia that although the commonwealth does not control education, funding is a joint responsibility of both federal and state governments and “resourcing is obviously a part of the whole equation”.
While addressing “crowded” curriculums may help, Thomson warned against a “back to basics” approach, which can lead teachers to “teach to the middle” and fail to help weaker students.
Thomson also called for more specialist maths teachers and more training for people teaching maths although it is not their main field.