International studies show encouraging results

Issue: Volume 96, Number 1

Posted: 30 January 2017
Reference #: 1H9d5t

Late last year both the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study 2015 (TIMSS) and the 2015 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results were released. The results of both studies reflected encouraging developments in New Zealand’s education system, but there is still work to be done.

The latest Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study 2015 (TIMSS) results show that New Zealand’s year 5 and year 9 students’ scores have increased, compared with 2010.

This international comparative study (TIMSS) conducted by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), involves students from 55 countries.

Dr Craig Jones, Deputy Secretary of Evidence, Data and Knowledge at the Ministry of Education says the results are a credit to students, parents, teachers and schools. However, the report also highlights that there is still more work to do to lift the achievement levels of Māori and Pasifika students who are still, on average, not doing as well as their classmates.

“The gap between our top performers and our lowest is still too wide,” he says.

“To help address this, our government is for the first time directly targeting operational funding to students most at risk of educational underachievement.”

Year 5 science students were the stand-out achievers, taking their score from 497 to 506 in the study.

TIMSS shows that all other average scores have stabilised. Year 9 girls markedly improved their scores, while year 5 and year 9 maths students scored 491 and 493 respectively. This result sits comfortably above the intermediate international benchmark of 475.

Positivity at school

TIMSS also reinforced the confident and positive attitude many children have towards schooling.

Ninety per cent of year 5 students reported that they feel positive about school, teachers and their classmates. This was in spite of the fact that 60 per cent of those same students reporting that they had experienced some form of bullying behaviour monthly or more.

Dr Jones said that TIMSS conducted its survey in 2014 and much has happened in schools since then to address bullying.

“New guidelines on cyberbullying have been made available to all schools, while the Harmful Digital Communications Act also came into force in 2015,” he says.

In 2017 the cross-sector Bullying Prevention Advisory Group will release a Bullying-free New Zealand School Toolkit, following its 2016 launch of a new bullying prevention website(external link) for schools and their communities. Highlights include student access to digital technologies being the highest out of all the TIMSS countries.

Furthermore, the push to get more children into early childhood education is reaping gains, with results showing that year 5 students who had attended ECE for more than a year had higher levels of achievement.

New Zealand students score better in core subjects

New Zealand has stabilised its position among the top half of countries in the other major international study into educational achievement published last year.

We have also moved up the OECD rankings in maths, science and reading in the 2015 Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA) study.

New Zealand students’ performance overall was relatively consistent up to 2009, but between 2009 and 2012 performance declined, although it was still above the OECD average in maths, science and reading. The latest results show that that trend has halted and stabilised.

PISA is an OECD study covering 15-year-olds’ achievements in reading, maths and science and was last conducted in 2012. It shows New Zealand in the top 10 countries for reading – up from 13th in 2012. New Zealand has also overtaken other countries in science with a ranking change from 18th to 12th and in maths from 23rd to 21st.

The actual scores in each of the areas have stabilised after a decline in 2012, and New Zealand remains well above the international average in each of the subjects. New Zealand scored 513 in science, while the average across countries was 493; 509 in reading with an international average of 493, and 495 in maths, with an international average of 490.

“To add to that, our top students are fantastic all-rounders, with New Zealand having one of the highest proportions of top achievers across reading, maths and science,” says Minister of Education Hekia Parata. “Six per cent of our students were in this category, compared with an OECD average of 4 per cent.”

Our 15-year-olds are also solid performers when it comes to the different areas of science that are assessed in PISA – physical systems, living systems and earth science, she says.

“That comes as no surprise when we look at PISA because it tells us that more New Zealand students at this age are enjoying learning science than many of their OECD peers. This is showing a positive effect on their achievement, which is really pleasing.”

Similar to TIMSS, PISA highlights that there is still more work to do to lift the achievement levels of Māori and Pasifika students who are still not doing as well, on average, as their classmates.

“The good news is that the socio-economic background of students is not as strongly related to student outcomes as it was in 2012. But we still need to close the gaps between our highest and lowest performers,” says Ms Parata.

“We now want to help more of our students and teachers by extending the educational success we have in many of our schools into every school. Communities of Learning | Kāhui Ako are key to addressing the challenge of extending educational success into every school."

“Another initiative that’s showing a lot of promise for the future of maths and science achievement is Curious Minds. This is a Ministry of Education and Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment programme to increase school engagement in science, technology, engineering and maths or STEM,” she says.

Curious Minds is encouraging more girls into STEM subjects, enabling students to learn directly from technology intensive businesses in their community, linking science to Māori language, culture and identity, and funding projects that give students STEM learning opportunities.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 11:33 pm, 30 January 2017

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