Australia’s PISA Ranking: Cause for Concern?

28 Jan 2020

PISA is designed by education experts from participating countries and provinces to test real-world application of the skills taught in schools. The focus is on assessing capabilities in the domains of reading and mathematical and scientific literacy, rather than subject-specific content or knowledge. The assessment operates in a three-year cycle, with a major focus (Reading in 2018) and two minor areas each cycle.  At the end of 2019, the 2018 PISA rankings were released. Australia’s rankings in specific domains either had not improved or had declined from the 2015 results and Australian students were falling behind their peers in other parts of the world.  

No doubt many of you saw some of these articles or heard discussions about this and whether or not our school system was performing. 

'Alarm bells': Australian students record worst result in global tests

The ABC declared that “Australian students behind in maths, reading and science”.

The Australian said that “Schools fail on maths, science”.

It is important to note that, in Australia, students from all States and Territories and all schooling systems participate and provide a representative sample of 15 year old students in the given year. Other countries can be represented by selected cities or provinces – and some choose to do this. If you were to take the student scores from the Australian Independent Sector only, Australia would have been ranked amongst the top 10 countries in the world in all three areas in 2018 – reading literacy, scientific literacy and mathematical literacy. Of course, to use one sector limits the data and does not represent the Australian education system as a whole. However, this data extraction shows the diversity of the Australian educational landscape and how PISA should only be used as one measure.  

The SMH’s Education Writer, Jordan Baker points to the need for thoughtful change. The PISA problem: 'The rest of the world is moving away from us'. She points out that demanding a “back to basics” approach is contrary to what PISA tests are looking for. PISA requires the application of knowledge, rather than the regurgitation of knowledge.

What we need is a well thought out, longer-term solution. One answer may come through The NSW Curriculum Review (2019-20). This review certainly points to significant change in terms of reducing content in an overcrowded curriculum and ensuring students meet key benchmarks. The challenge is to harness the commitment to change and to engage the various school systems In NSW and across Australia with an imperative to build on deep learning experiences. 

Source: PISA