4 Aug 2015

Chance to correct NZ's poor marks

8:40 am on 4 August 2015

Several thousand 15-year-olds hold the international reputation of New Zealand's education system in their hands this month.

student generic

Photo: AFP

They are the teens who have been randomly selected for the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which tests reading, maths and science.

The results will be used to rank New Zealand against other countries, and there are big question marks over whether it can reverse a relatively poor performance in the last round of tests in 2012.

New Zealand's scores fell in all three subject areas while some other countries improved. Those results saw New Zealand slump from seventh in the world to 13th in reading, seventh to 18th in science, and from 13th to 23rd in maths.

Massey University education professor John O'Neill said the Government paid a lot of attention to the results and to other international tests.

"Probably more than the public realises, Government is looking for ways to find out how well we're doing compared with other countries overseas - particularly countries that are similar to ours, and saying 'what do we need to do about education policies?'"

However, Professor O'Neill said there was a degree of national pride associated with the test results and PISA was becoming increasingly competitive.

Science results 'hugely important'

Association of Maths Teachers president Gillian Frankcom said she hoped New Zealand would improve its scores, but she warned the PISA tests were not necessarily an accurate measure.

"Although the test is testing a common core, if you like, of all the countries, the questions may not be central to the work we're doing here with our children. So there's always those problems - does the test really test what you think it's testing."

Ms Frankcom said the tests were long and were as much a test of perseverance as subject knowledge.

Open maths book with workings

Photo: RNZ / John Gerritsen

Association of Science Educators president Chris Dugan said New Zealand's science scores mattered.

"It's hugely important. We value ourselves as a nation of innovators. Science is the foundation to that innovation," she said.

"We need to make sure that what we're doing in schools and in the community is actually paying dividends and is increasing the knowledge and that we're not lagging behind the rest of the world, because that would be really devastating for us as a country."

Ms Dugan said the Government was trying to improve New Zealanders' understanding of science, but not enough had changed in schools yet.

"What happens behind the closed door in the classroom is foundational and I haven't seen a shift there yet. So I'm hopeful there will be an improvement in our results but I somehow don't believe it will be happening just yet."

Tests may affect education economy

A senior education lecturer at Victoria University, Michael Johnston, said New Zealand's PISA scores from year to year were worth paying attention to, but the rankings comparing different countries were not reliable.

Even so, he said people put a lot of emphasis on the PISA league table because it was worth a lot of money.

"Lots of countries, including New Zealand, have education export industries, so the reputation of the education sector is really important to us - and PISA results, whether we like it or not, reflect on that to some degree."

Education Minister Hekia Parata said a lot of work was underway to improve education, but it would take time to flow through in PISA results.

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