MEDIA RELEASE: Australia’s maths and science ranking drops to dismal level

Jennifer Buckingham

29 November 2016

“The latest international test results show Australia is a slow learner when it comes to improving its school performance,” according to Centre for Independent Studies education expert Dr Jennifer Buckingham.

Australia is not just worse than Asian ‘tiger economies’ but was also significantly out-performed by Kazakhstan, Portugal and Russia, as well as demographically similar countries like England and the United States.

The results of the 2015 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) will be released tonight. TIMSS 2015 included 630,000 students across 49 countries in Year 4 and 39 countries in Year 8.

The results show that maths and science knowledge (as measured by mean scores) of Australian students has not improved in the past 20 years.

Australia’s ranking has fallen since the last test in 2011, despite there being fewer participating countries in 2015. Other countries have significantly increased their performance in the last decade and have now surpassed Australia.

“The ACT was the highest-performing Australian jurisdiction, but it barely nudged into the top performing TIMSS group.  The average score for the entire USA was similar to the score for the ACT in Year 8 science.

There has been a substantial decline in some states since 2003 — particularly NSW for both maths and science, Dr Buckingham said.

“We can’t even put it down to the city-country divide. While students in metropolitan areas had higher performance than those in remote and regional areas, even the city students were mediocre by international standards.”

“Australia has been moving in the wrong direction for almost two decades.

“Australian education systems, universities and schools need to look at the evidence for the most effective teaching and learning methods and immediately revise their practices accordingly.”

Jennifer Buckingham is a Senior Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies and Director of the FIVE from FIVE reading project 

Key national results

Maths:

  • No improvement in Year 4 average maths score since 2007
  • No improvement in Year 8 average maths score since 1995
  • Australia’s absolute ranking in Year 4 maths fell from 19 to 28, and its statistical ranking fell from 17 to 22 since the last test in 2011
  • Australia’s absolute ranking in Year 8 maths fell from 12 to 17, and its statistical ranking fell from 7 to 13 since the last test in 2011
  • Australia had a much higher proportion of students below the proficient standard (38%) and a much lower proportion of students at the advanced standard (7%) than comparable countries in Year 8 maths.

Science:

  • No improvement in Year 4 average science score since 1995
  • No improvement in Year 8 average science score since 1995
  • Australia’s absolute ranking in Year 4 science fell from 24 to 25, and its statistical ranking fell from 18 to 19 since the last test in 2011
  • Australia’s absolute ranking in Year 8 science fell from 12 to 17, and its statistical ranking fell from 9 to 15 since the last test in 2011
  • Australia had a much higher proportion of students below the proficient standard (31%) and a much lower proportion of students at the advanced standard (7%) than comparable countries in Year 8 maths.

* Australia’s slightly higher rankings in Year 8 than in Year 4 are because many of the countries that outranked Australia in the Year 4 test did not participate in the Year 8 test, including England, Northern Ireland, Denmark, Finland, Germany and the Netherlands.

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