Education survey more than just rankings – Fiona Ell

In the New Zealand Herald lecturer in primary teacher education at the University of Auckland, Dr Fiona Ell, reflects on our ranking in the latest international education survey, warning that our ranking is not the number on which we should focus.

An excerpt (read in full here):

Real issue is the gap, not rankings

The New Zealand experience: More important than standings is chasm between our high and low achievers
Ranked lists seem to fascinate us. At this time of the year top 10s proliferate: books, music, political gaffes, and sporting moments. And everyone loves it when New Zealanders come out on top: winning the Booker Prize, topping the US song charts, winning the Rugby World Cup. In the world of education the big ranked list is the OECD’s Pisa assessments. The 2012 results were released on Tuesday and we are not top of the pops.

Pisa – Programme for International Student Assessment – is an OECD initiative that has been testing 15-year-olds around the world since 1997. In 2012, representative samples of students in 66 countries sat a 120-minute written test comprising a carefully constructed battery of items. The items were designed to assess the students’ preparation for adult life and participation as engaged citizens by testing mathematical literacy, reading literacy and scientific literacy.

In 2012, for the first time since 2003, mathematical literacy was the focus of the assessment.

And what happened? New Zealand’s score dropped, statistically significantly. We remain just above the OECD average, but with a score that seems to be inexorably falling (we have a high “annualised change score” that shows that our score is deteriorating significantly faster than average). In fact, 25 countries went up between 2003 and 2012, and only 14 went down.

Does it matter? Should we be worried? What does it mean? These seem like simple questions, but in education, like many areas of social policy, the answers can be quite complex.

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