What PISA 2012 tells us about our schools

Decline in student performance and widening achievement gaps revealed in PISA 2012 shows the urgent need for more equitable school funding arrangements across the country.

Equity is a huge problem in our schools

Across the OECD, the relationship between student performance and social and economic background is significant. In Australia, the gap between students in the highest and lowest quartiles is equivalent to around 2 ½ years schooling. 

27% of students in the highest socio-economic status (SES) quartile were top performers compared to 5% in the lowest. 

8% of students in the highest quartile were low performers; 33% in the lowest quartie were low performers. 

Regardless of their own SES background, students enrolled in a school with a high-average SES background tended to perform better than those enrolled in a school with a low-average SES background. In other words, the quality of a student's education is heavily impacted by the social and economic backgrounds of the other kids in their class. 

Australia is above-average internationally but has declined significantly since 2003

Australia’s average score of 521 points was above the OECD average 501. 

However, Australia’s performance has declined since the last PISA test in 2009 and even more so since 2003. There has been a decline in the proportion of top performers and an increase in the proportion of low performers. A 20 point decline in average maths results between PISA 2003 and 2012 is equivalent to ½ year of schooling.

The ACT is the best performer in the country 

Fleta Page writes in the Canberra Times: 

“The ACT ranks among the highest in the world when it comes to reading, with mean scores putting it just above Finland, which is third in the OECD country rankings, compared to Australia's eighth. Canberra tops the nation in mathematics, ranking equal with Canada, the fifth-ranking OECD country, well above Australia in 11th. When it comes to science, Western Australia outperformed the ACT by the narrowest margin, with both regions just shy of Korea, which ranks No. 2 out of the OECD countries.” 

On average, ACT students have the highest socio-economic status (SES) in the nation. 

Performance in the ACT has declined significantly since 2003 

While the ACT is the best performing jurisdiction in the country, performance has declined significantly. There has been a 9% decrease in top performers. The average score of ACT students has declined by 30 points in mathematics and by 15 points in science since the PISA 2009 test. 

In response to survey questions, 52% of ACT principals indicated that learning was affected by inadequate internet connections. 32% of ACT principals reported shortage or inadequacy of instructional materials.

Student wellbeing is a concern 

Over 20% of Australian students felt they didn’t belong, weren’t happy, not satisfied at school. 

Despite often having a significant resources advantage, students in private schools do no better than students in public schools

There were no significant differences between sectors once individual students’ socio-economic status and the socio-economic status background of the school were taken into account.

Read more

Australian Education Union, PISA results must lead to action on school resourcing, December 4, 2013

Cobbold, T. PISA Test Results Prove that Increased Funding Should be Allocated to Disadvantaged Students and Schools,

Save Our Schools, December 6, 2013 

Hutchens, G, Under John Howard's funding model, reading, writing skills faltered, The Canberra Times, December 4, 2013

Page, F, ACT leads nation in Program for International Assessment but Australia is slipping, The Canberra Times, December 4, 2013

Patty, A, Australia's report card in the latest OECD snapshot highlights the need for urgent education reform, Sydney Morning Herald, December 7, 2013 

Riddle, S, Lingard, B & Sellar, S, Australia’s PISA slump is big news but what’s the real story?, The Conversation, 3 December 2013

Savage, G, FactCheck: is Australian education highly equitable?, The Conversation, 5 December, 2013  

Thompson, S, DeBortoli, L, Buckley, S, PISA in Brief Highlights, from the full Australian report, Australian Council of Educational Research 


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