Wednesday, December 5

Our report card: 'Has done better'

Australian students are beginning to fall behind the standard of overseas students in reading and mathematical skills – that's the finding of an OECD study released overnight. We're still ahead of most of the world, but we're slipping.

I picked up the story first from a brief report on Sky News Online early today, which also said:

It has been reported that the results were dragged down by poor performances by indigenous students and those from a low socio-economic background.

That set off two lines of thought. First, Sky needs a good old-fashioned sub-editor, who'd rewrite that passive voice into active, and who'd see the need for attribution. But old-style subs are an endangered species as more media companies see them as merely process workers shovelling “content” in between the ads.

Second, are inequities in our education systems worsening? The picture seems unclear. Further reading suggests we may be letting down our brightest students – and also that we're not achieving much-needed improvement in the educational development of many Aboriginal children, as well as others from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

A little more browsing on the web brought up this report by The Australian's education writer, Justine Ferrari, headed: “Brightest students falling behind world”.

Results from the latest Program for International Student Assessment, released yesterday by the OECD group of 30 developed nations, show that while Australian students still perform in the top 10 of the world in reading, maths and science and well above the OECD average, their ranking dropped.

The PISA test of 15-year-olds shows the reading scores of Australian students fell about 15 points over the past six years, with the decline caused by a fall among the highest-performing students.

"It is noteworthy that, among the countries with above-average performance levels, only Australia has seen a statistically significant decline in their students' reading performance," the report says.

In maths, Australia's mean score remained about the same, but this was due to an improvement among the weakest students that counteracted the fall in performance among top students.

The Australian Council for Educational Research conducts the PISA test on behalf of the OECD.

ACER chief executive Geoff Masters said fewer students were demonstrating skills at the highest levels, which involved sophisticated reading and understanding the nuance of language.
Students had to read complex and unfamiliar texts and find information that was not obvious.

Later, on ABC radio, he said a possible reason for the decline was that students today read fewer books and long texts.

Justine Ferrari also reported:

Researchers in gifted and talented education argue that Australian schools need to better provide for the academically gifted, in the same way that elite sports people are fostered, and encourage bright students to forge ahead at their own pace rather than tie them to the class rate.

The Sydney Morning Herald's education writer, Anna Patty, also covered the issue well, focusing on the slipping ability of our brightest 15-year-olds, and also noting a downturn in girls' maths skills. She also wrote:

. . . almost a quarter of the poorest students, 40 per cent of Aboriginal students and 27 per cent of those in remote schools performed below the OECD baseline at which students are considered to be at risk of serious disadvantage.

Your Grumpy Old Blogger thought this would be a quick and easy post. It's not. So I'm taking a break to think it over after reading the report and some summaries which can be downloaded from ACER's website.

Whatever, surely this rich nation should strive to deliver the best education and the best opportunities in life for every one of its children, whether bright or struggling, rich or poor, from the city or the bush.

Our report card now says: "Has done better – must try harder." And we really must. We owe it to our kids and our grandkids and our nation's future.

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