Australian students’ maths literacy continues to decline and large gaps between rich and poor students persist, a new international comparison shows.
The OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results from 2012 reveal the downward trend also applies to reading results and, to a lesser extent, science literacy.
Shanghai in China topped the international results in all three subjects.
Australian 15-year-olds ranked 17th out of 65 countries in maths, 8th in science and 10th in reading.
But several countries, such as Poland and Ireland, who were ranked below Australia in past tests, have overtaken us.
It matters more which teacher you are allocated as opposed to which school you attend.
Sue Thomson, who helps manage PISA for the Australian Council for Educational Research, said Australia needed to work out what those countries did well.
“From Poland, one of the things that we can learn is if we increase the number of options that are available for students instead of trying to just keep them going in one direction … it certainly seems to be a benefit,” she told AAP.
The 2012 PISA report, released on Tuesday, showed Australian students’ maths results had declined steadily since 2003.
The proportion of Australian students performing at the top levels had declined significantly while more weren’t meeting minimum standards.
Dr Thomson said it was also concerning the large gap between the most advantaged and least advantaged students had persisted over the past decade.
Disadvantaged students are about 2.5 years behind their advantaged peers in maths.
“Probably by the time they finish school, it’s a little bit more, which doesn’t augur very well for low socio-economic students in terms of further study or jobs,” Dr Thomson said.
“That’s where things like the funding argument comes in, looking at targeted funding for disadvantaged students. They’re the ones who we really need to work on to try and help.”
The Australian Education Union said these unacceptable gaps underlined the importance of needs-based school funding.
“This must be a wake-up call to the Abbott government,” deputy federal president Correna Haythorpe said.
The Australian Greens said if the gap between the top and bottom students wasn’t narrowed, Australia wouldn’t be able to raise its overall education performance.
Education Minister Christopher Pyne said the PISA report showed how critical teacher quality was to lifting student performance.
“It is concerning that our high performing students are not doing as well as students from other countries and that our low performing students are performing very poorly,” he said.
“PISA has found that in Australia, it matters more which teacher you are allocated as opposed to which school you attend.”
The report also showed the Northern Territory had the highest proportion of students who enjoyed studying maths, but its results continued to be the worst in the country.