New Zealand top-end in OECD's latest PISA report but drop in achievements 'worrying'

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Disproportionate rates of bullying, poor classroom environments and truancy could be reasons student achievements are in a “worrying” decline.

A global education report showed an overall decline in New Zealand’s level of reading, mathematics and science since 2009 – equating a loss of about 3/4 of a year’s worth of a student’s schooling against 2009 results.

Ministry of Education Evidence, Data and Knowledge deputy secretary Dr Craig Jones said the results were cause for concern.

Data pointed to key issues in New Zealand’s education system including an alarming rise in bullying, gaps between high and low achievers, drastically deteriorating attitudes toward reading, a rise in truancy, poor learning environments and a negative attitude toward school.

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However, the 2018 trends for reading (top 15 – equal 12th with Sweden), mathematics (top 30 – 27th) and science (top 15 – 12th) in New Zealand were still above average in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) latest Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results, which covered 78 countries.

Of the OECD countries alone, New Zealand ranked eighth across all three subjects in the report. Estonia was ranked first and the United States fell beneath Aotearoa. When OECD partner countries were included in the results, China (Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang) took the top spot.

Bullying, learning gaps, truancy and drops in achievements continue to plague New Zealand's education system but the latest PISA results show it's still above the OECD average.

123RF

Bullying, learning gaps, truancy and drops in achievements continue to plague New Zealand’s education system but the latest PISA results show it’s still above the OECD average.

In a presentation on Tuesday, Jones said it was positive to see the country’s education system continue to perform above average. But warned of complacency – likening the danger of focusing on relatively unchanged data from PISA reports in 2015 and 2012 to slowly boiling a frog, alive.

It was difficult to know from the data what was causing the decline, Jones said.

“We still don’t entirely know what drove that big drop between 2009 and 2012 … there’s no doubt a complex set of things going on. This helps us to understand some of those … some we can have influence over if we do the right things.”

New Zealand ranks at the top-end of the overall reading, maths and science results in the latest PISA report published by the OECD on Tuesday.

MINISTRY OF EDUCATION/SUPPLIED

New Zealand ranks at the top-end of the overall reading, maths and science results in the latest PISA report published by the OECD on Tuesday.

New Zealand was one of seven countries that saw a decline in the mean performance across reading, maths and science alongside Australia, Finland, Iceland, Korea, the Netherlands and the Slovak Republic. Seven countries saw improvements.

The country’s mean score in reading was 506, 494 in maths and 508 in science. The top-performing country across all three areas was China which scored 555, 591 and 590, respectively.

New Zealand Post Primary Teacher’s Association (PPTA) president Jack Boyle said the PISA results were a yardstick.

Of the OECD countries alone, New Zealand ranked fifth across all three subjects in the report. Estonia was ranked first and the United States fell beneath Aotearoa.

MINISTRY OF EDUCATION/SUPPLIED

Of the OECD countries alone, New Zealand ranked fifth across all three subjects in the report. Estonia was ranked first and the United States fell beneath Aotearoa.

The Ministry of Education was building frameworks he believed would help see trends changed, including the Tomorrow’s Schools Review, Curriculum Progress and Achievement, Disability and Learning Support Action Plan, Māori and Pacific Education projects.

New Zealand Principals’ Federation Whetu Cormick said the current education system was not cultural responsive or competent which did not allow Māori and Pasifika students to be who they are.

“We need to be aware this may impact PISA’s data as it doesn’t consider the cultural differences.”

Education minister Chris Hipkins said the report highlighted the links between student achievement and issues with bullying.

“All students need to feel a sense of belonging to thrive. So we’re making changes as part of changes to Tomorrow’s Schools that will see Boards of Trustees put a safe and inclusive school environment on the same footing as achievement, rather than being lower priorities.”

Bullying

New Zealand has a bullying problem and nothing has improved since the last PISA results. In fact, the trends in our schools have become worse.

The number of students who reported being victims of any type of bullying at least a few times a month was 32 per cent – a significant rise since 2015. There was a 6 per cent in the number of students being “made fun of” (23 per cent), 2 per cent rise in students being “hit or pushed” (9 per cent) and 2 per cent rise in the number of students who were “threatened” (10 per cent).

New Zealand no longer ranked second, behind Latvia. However, that was due to the number of countries now reporting on the issue countries like Columbia, Latvia, Argentina, Brunei, Cyprus, Dominican Republic, Indonesia and Jordan ranking higher.

In 2009 13.2 per cent of students said they did not feel safe at school but that has risen to 19.4 per cent. Māori were more likely not to feel safe at school.

MINISTRY OF EDUCATION/SUPPLIED

In 2009 13.2 per cent of students said they did not feel safe at school but that has risen to 19.4 per cent. Māori were more likely not to feel safe at school.

“It’s too high. We continue to be worried about that. It is starting to have an impact on students reported feelings of safety,” Jones said.

In 2009 13.2 per cent of students said they did not feel safe at school but that has risen to 19.4 per cent. Māori were more likely not to feel safe at school.

Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson said bullying affected a whole school community including whānau and staff.

“If you’re not feeling safe physically and emotionally that’s hugely traumatic and that trauma can last for years in the future.”

Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft said if it were not for new countries being looked at, New Zealand would still rank second.

It was a national disgrace and “no New Zealander should be proud of this”.

Every school d should adopt a set of guidelines that draw a line in the sand that shows a zero tolerance for bullying, he said.

The 2018 trends for reading (top 15 – equal 12th with Sweden), mathematics (top 30 – 27th) and science (top 15 – 12th) in New Zealand were still above the OECD average for the PISA results, which covered 78 countries.

Pavel Ilyukhin

The 2018 trends for reading (top 15 – equal 12th with Sweden), mathematics (top 30 – 27th) and science (top 15 – 12th) in New Zealand were still above the OECD average for the PISA results, which covered 78 countries.

PPTA president Jack Boyle said there was still a lot of work to do to ensure schools felt like a safe place for young people.

The data appeared to show that there was also an increased awareness of bullying among students and there was also greater awareness from principals about how bullying affected learning.

“There seems to be a growing picture that we might be able to do something about this and that’s a good place to be in.”

Reading

Attitudes to reading behaviours have drastically deteriorated. Students are more likely to say reading is “a waste of time” than they have in past PISA reports, 15-year-olds were less likely to read for enjoyment and 52 per cent of pupils said they “only read if they have to”.

This was a big difference from the last reports, Jones said.

Students are more likely to say reading is "a waste of time" than they have in past PISA reports, 15-year-olds were less likely to read for enjoyment and 52 per cent of pupils said they "only read if they have to".

MINISTRY OF EDUCATION/SUPPLIED

Students are more likely to say reading is “a waste of time” than they have in past PISA reports, 15-year-olds were less likely to read for enjoyment and 52 per cent of pupils said they “only read if they have to”.

“We are something like 20 points lower now in reading than we were in 2000 when we first did it. I’m worried about that, I don’t think that’s good enough.”

While the gender gap between girls and boys decreased it was mostly because the level of girls’ reading saw a drop.

Jones said new ways to “stimulate” pupils enjoyment of reading needed to be found. “That starts in the home,” he added – pointing to technology as a notable 21st-century distraction.

The gap between high and low achievers is closing with low achievers achieving higher results. But the pinched results have mostly come from high achievers not meeting the same mark as previous years.

MINISTRY OF EDUCATION/SUPPLIED

The gap between high and low achievers is closing with low achievers achieving higher results. But the pinched results have mostly come from high achievers not meeting the same mark as previous years.

Truancy

The number of students skipping school is on the rise. The PISA results are consistent with the Ministry’s data, Jones said.

“Attendance is very strongly related to achievement outcomes and there is no safe level of non-attendance.”

Every single day a pupil was out of class had a detrimental impact on, for example, NCEA achievement, he added.

Achievement gap

The gap between high and low achievers is closing with low achievers achieving higher results. But the pinched results have mostly come from high achievers not meeting the same mark as previous years.

“In reading and science, New Zealand had some of the largest variations in achievement compared to other countries. The gap between the top 10 per cent and the bottom 10 per cent of students in achievement has remained large since earlier PISA cycles,” the Ministry’s report said.

“It’s one of the most troubling things in all of this is the difference between students at the top and at the bottom,” Jones said.

“We know that’s a deeply entrenched inequity in our system and we haven’t really shifted that [in 20 years].”

Ministry of Education Evidence, Data and Knowledge deputy secretary Dr Craig Jones believed changes currently underway through the Tomorrow's Schools Review, Curriculum Progress and Achievement, Disability and Learning Support Action Plan, Māori and Pacific Education projects will help lift achievement rates.

MINISTRY OF EDUCATION/SUPPLIED

Ministry of Education Evidence, Data and Knowledge deputy secretary Dr Craig Jones believed changes currently underway through the Tomorrow’s Schools Review, Curriculum Progress and Achievement, Disability and Learning Support Action Plan, Māori and Pacific Education projects will help lift achievement rates.

“Compared to New Zealand averages Māori and Pacific students had lower average achievement but reported higher levels of some student wellbeing indicators such as teacher and parental support.”

Measures on achievement based on a students’ socio-economic status has weakened overall since 2009, meaning it played less of a role in student achievement than previous years.

Learning environment

Every student, no matter their gender or ethnicity has been struggling to find a “sense of belonging”.

The report showed a huge downturn in students’ positivity toward making friends, feeling liked but were more likely to feel awkward, out of place, lonely and like an outsider.

Students also reported not feeling safe at school.

The report showed a huge downturn in students' positivity toward making friends, feeling liked but were more likely to feel awkward, out of place, lonely and like an outsider.

123RF

The report showed a huge downturn in students’ positivity toward making friends, feeling liked but were more likely to feel awkward, out of place, lonely and like an outsider.

Teachers and students face a difficult and disruptive learning environment, Jones said. “It’s very difficult to learn in that environment.”

What is PISA?

PISA is an international research programme which assesses and compares education systems around the world. It uses data from 15-year-old students, who are considered to be at which age where they transfer into society by moving on to work, training or further education.

The 2018 PISA report did not include one of the 79 participating countries due to inadequate data collection.

TOP OECD COUNTRY PERFORMERS

Estonia

Canada 

Finland

Ireland

Korea

Poland

Sweden 

New Zealand

TOP OECD PARTNER COUNTRY PERFORMERS 

China (Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang)

Singapore

Macao (China)

Hong Kong (China) 

Chinese Taipei

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