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New Zealand records its worst ever results Pisa results
New Zealand records its worst ever results Pisa results

The BulletinDecember 7, 2023

Our ‘worst ever’ reading, maths and science scores and why people question them

New Zealand records its worst ever results Pisa results
New Zealand records its worst ever results Pisa results

A decline in our Pisa scores was described as ‘disastrous’ and ‘disappointing’, but plenty of educators question the merit of the OECD-backed testing scheme, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell in this excerpt from The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s morning news round-up. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.

Pisa scores drop

The new Pisa report was released yesterday, and New Zealand recorded its worst ever results in the OECD’s maths, science and reading testing programme. Average scores in the Pisa for New Zealand 15-year-olds dropped 15 points in maths to 479 points, while science and reading scores fell just 4-5 points to 504 and 501 points. Scores have fallen worldwide, and New Zealand remains above OECD averages in all three areas. The Herald’s Derek Cheng has a good overview of the results. You can try the maths questions included in the Pisa testing for yourself here. The Pisa assessment has long been debated among academics and educators. In 2014, more than 100 academics worldwide called for a moratorium on Pisa. In 2019, Yong Zhao, a globally renowned educationalist and academic, wrote that “Pisa’s magical power in the education universe stems from its bold claims and successful marketing. It starts by tapping into the universal anxiety about the future. Humans are naturally concerned about the future and have a strong desire to know if tomorrow is better than, or at least as good as, today.”

Programme not a reliable indicator, say principals

As Brett Kerr-Laurie and Tatiana Gibbs report for The Press this morning, school principals weren’t surprised by the results. They say the programme is not a reliable indicator of student performance, as New Zealand schools don’t teach to it, instead using the national curriculum. Vice-president of the Secondary Principals’ Association of New Zealand (SPANZ) and principal of the largest high school in the South Island, Burnside High School, Scott Haines, says, “A number of schools see no value in it.” he notes there are stories of kids who “circled ‘C’ for every answer” just to get through the test. Dr Michael Johnston, senior fellow at the New Zealand Initiative and former associate dean at the school of education at Victoria University, argues the results (paywalled) are corroborated by other international reading data and our national monitoring data “that show that much higher proportions of children are behind curriculum expectations in Year 8 than in Year 4.”

‘Disappointing but entirely predictable’ — education minister

As RNZ’s John Gerritsen reports, phones, bullying, hunger, Covid and teaching staff were revealed as problems in the accompanying report. A quarter of New Zealand students were in schools where the principals said they had inadequate or poorly qualified teaching staff, and nearly half were in schools that struggled to hire teachers. The number of students reporting that they weren’t eating at least once a week in the past 30 days due to lack of money to buy food was 14%, compared to the OECD average of 8%. Education minister Erica Stanford responded to the release of the results by saying they were disappointing but entirely predictable. The new government will roll out new approaches to literacy teaching. National’s education policy also includes a plan to require schools to do one hour of maths, an hour of reading and an hour of writing every day. At a school visit to Manurewa Intermediate last week, prime minister Christopher Luxon touted the phone ban in schools as part of the solution.

‘Go after the social media companies’

When I first wrote about the arguments for and against phone bans in schools, I made the small request that students be heard alongside parents, educators and politicians. This morning on The Spinoff, high school student Caspar Levack argues the ban is poorly researched, won’t work and misses the real problem. Levack astutely writes that “If National wants to improve the lives of teenagers while also reining in technology, there is absolutely a path there: go after the social media companies. National MPs and much of the media commentators often conflate phone use with social media use. The latter is legitimately harmful; it’s designed to be addictive and fritters the attention spans of its users. Properly regulating social media companies would be popular policy that makes the government look really good. Why not do that instead?”

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