Home' Teacher : Jan-Feb 2011 Contents 22 teac her january/ february 2011
As the OECD has noted in previous PISA
reports, ‘private schools may realise their
advantage not only from the socioeconomic
advantage that students bring with them,
but even more so because their combined
socioeconomic intake allows them to create
a learning environ ment that is more condu-
cive to learni ng’.
This is seen, too, in the finding that,
regardless of their own socioeconomic
backgrou nd, students attending schools
with a high average socioeconomic back-
ground tend to perform better than stu-
dents enrolled in a school with a low average
socioeconomic backgrou nd.
While this pattern is seen in several
count ries across the OECD, it should be of
particular concern for Australia, which has
a stronger than average link between socio-
economic status and academic achieve-
Students from the highest socioeconomic
group scored an average of 562 points on
reading literacy compared to 471 points
by students from the lowest socioeconomic
group. This difference is equivalent to
almost three full years of schooling.
And, while the PISA results highlight this
inequity, the evidence is not new, according
to ACER chief executive Professor Geoff
‘Through PISA we’ve been able to moni-
tor these gaps in achievement for almost a
decade. There is little evidence of the gaps
closing ,’ P rofessor Masters said.
‘These achievement gaps place an u nac-
ceptable proportion of 15-year- old students
at serious risk of not achieving literacy levels
sufficient for them to effectively participate
in the 21st-century workforce a nd contrib-
ute to Australia as productive citizens ,’ he
‘Some Australian teenagers may be try-
ing to enter the workforce and forge a future
for themselves with reading, mathematics
and science literacy skills equivalent to a
Year 7 or 8 education or worse,’ he said.
According to the PISA report, the find-
ings set a clear challenge for Australia to
improve the equity of its education system.
‘Educational inequality is not a given,’
write the report authors.
‘Some schools, some school systems , a nd
some countries do more to mitigate inequal-
ity than others. Australia has chosen to par-
ticipate in PISA in order to monitor national
outcomes on a regular basis – the challenge
is to act on these findings as other coun-
tries have, to lift educational outcomes for
all students.’ T
The Australian national report, PISA
2009: Challenges for Australian education
by Sue Thomson, Lisa DeBortoli, Marina
Nicholas, Kylie Hillman and Sarah
Buckley, and further information about
the PISA assessment is available from the
Australian PISA website www.acer.edu.
ACER conducts PISA in Australia on
behalf of the OECD with funding from
the Commonwealth and state and terri-
What pisA does
PISA compares students’ performa nces from one cycle to the next, enabling changes
and trends within a country to be monitored over time. Questionnaires are used to
collect backgrou nd information , including information about students’ attitudes,
engagement and motivations. PISA also compares the strength of the relationship
between student achievement and socioeconomic background in the participating
The students who were assessed in PISA 2009 had entered primary school at
about the time of the first PISA survey in 2000. As a result, Australia – which has
participated in PISA since its inception – is able to gauge to what ex tent changes in
our education systems in the last decade have produced changes in student outcomes
compared with the benchmarks set by the original 2000 survey. A central objective
of PISA – providing a stable point of reference against which to monitor the evolu-
tion of education systems – will therefore have been achieved.
As in 2000, the 2009 cycle of PISA focused on reading literacy. This means that
the assessment focused in-depth on students’ reading literacy, while maths and sci-
ence were measu red to a lesser degree.
PISA compares average performa nces across all participating countries. It also
compares the distributions of students’ results (for exa mple, the percentages of stu-
dents achieving very high scores). PISA sets a ‘baseline’ proficiency level and reports
the percentage of students in each country achieving this baseline. It also reports the
percentages of students achieving higher proficiency levels.
The PISA concept of reading literacy emphasises skills in using written informa-
tion in situations that students may encou nter in their life both at and beyond school.
The PISA framework defines reading literacy as: ‘u nderstanding , using and reflecting
on written texts, in order to achieve one’s goals, to develop one’s knowledge and
potential, a nd to participate in society.’
This definition goes beyond the traditional notion of reading literacy as decod-
ing information a nd literal comprehension. It implies that reading literacy involves
understanding, using and reflecting on written information in a range of situations.
PISA is particularly significant because the tests are developed by international
experts to see how well students could apply their k nowledge and skills to real-life
problems a nd situations. Results show how well students can analyse, reason a nd
explain their ideas – skills that will be important to them in their adult lives.
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