AITSL The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership

PISA Test Results

Being CEO of a national education organisation with a key role to play in promoting excellence in teaching and school leadership, as well as a proud citizen of this country, I was interested to see how the media would respond to the news of Australian students' performance in the latest round of PISA tests.

Strongly, I was hoping. Our standing in the PISA tests is something that every single one of us should sit up, take notice of and do something about. The media has a role to play in this, if they are to serve the public interest.

So, when I opened the papers on the morning of 4 December, I couldn't help but be astounded by the prominence given to the ongoing saga about the Essendon Football club's handling of the aftermath of the doping allegations. Perhaps the most extreme example was in the Melbourne Herald Sun, where the drugs in football story took up the entire front page with further reportage on pages 4, 5, 6 and 7, while the PISA article only made a few column inches on page 3.

Yes, sport is important in Australian culture; but more important than education? The answer to that question should be self-evident. I am the first to acknowledge the PISA results don’t tell the whole story. Imagination, drive, insight, critical thinking, communication skills, problem solving, creativity and self-confidence are arguably more important but without basic literacy, numeracy and scientific competency these higher order skills are elusive.

This preoccupation with sport is not the media's fault. Their relative weighting of stories reflects the interest of the general public, if not the public interest.

So, how do we turn this around?

First, the slightly good news. Australian students still rank significantly above the OECD average on each of the PISA measures: mathematical literacy, scientific literacy and reading literacy. Being above average isn't good enough, though. We need our students to be top of the class. Added to this is the matter of the steady decline in Australia's scores since 2000. This has to be turned around.

Educators and commentators alike maintain that the countries that rank highest on the PISA tests place a high value on the education of their students. They view education as a necessity and are hungry for their children to benefit from its transformative powers. If the balance of reporting in the Australian media is anything to go by, we seem to care more about sport. So, first things first, let's turn the national attention to a rigorous and ongoing debate about our schools and we want our kids to learn. We can’t afford to lose sight of the importance of education amongst the press of life and leisure activities.

Then, if we do value education, what as a society can we do collectively to raise the standing of our students? I believe that we need to maintain a focus on a well rounded education that meets the needs of all students; that recognises and encourages creativity, builds character, demands high levels of collaboration and fosters the talents of young Australians, as well as building the core knowledge and skills examined by PISA. We also need to take collective responsibility for the education of Australia's children. Learning starts from conception and is strongly related to the child's home environment. A home that is rich in conversation and language of all types will assist the child to get a good start when they begin school and families that engage with what a child does at school have a huge impact on their success.

Expectations also affect how students perform in school. Tests like PISA paint an alarming picture that for many Australian children their success in learning is related to where they live and their family's relative socioeconomic advantage. In short, the PISA results tell us the wealthier and closer to a city a child's family is, the better the child will do in school. Over the years, I have experienced colleagues who buy into this story, ready to give up on excellent results for children in less advantaged areas because it's too hard to make a difference. We have to expect that every student will learn and achieve to a very high standard, no matter what their family background, or where they live. Expectations drive results.

Another key factor in lifting performance is the quality of teaching in our schools. A core part of AISTL's responsibility is development of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (APST). I am proud that for the first time we have nationally agreed standards that articulate what it takes to achieve excellence in teaching.

These Teacher Standards provide a common framework and language to support teacher development. They are professional criteria which state that teachers must:

  • Know students and how they learn
  • Know the content and how to teach it
  • Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning
  • Create and maintain supportive and safe environments
  • Assess, provide feedback and report on student learning
  • Engage in professional learning
  • Engage professionally with colleagues, parents/carers and the community.

I raise the teacher standards here as they represent a core part of the solution to Australia's current education problem. A highly skilled teacher is able to ensure that every student succeeds in an education worth having; an education that is well rounded and that incorporates a focus on core knowledge and skills while taking into account individual background and needs.

Excellence in teaching is fundamental to ensuring we provide our children with the best education possible and, as a result, turn around Australia's ranking in PISA.

Education is a collective, whole of community endeavour, a public good. Tests like PISA, while they don’t paint the whole picture, do give us an indication of the health of our education system and, in Australia, it is clear we need to do better. I, for one, take seriously my responsibility to play a part in making a difference.

What do you think we need to improve education outcomes for young Australians?


Submitted by Carol atkins (not verified) on

Accountability is the key...inspect what we expect....stop allowing mediocrity, train and retain good teachers, support PL that is teacher to teacher and job embedded, develop goodwill, trust and collegiality.

Submitted by TG (not verified) on

While teaching as a profession is held in such low esteem in the public eye, and while the movement to ever increasing numbers of short term contract teachers by governments gains momentum, it becomes increasingly unattractive to put in years of study, work hard at being a good teacher. The profession will be left with people who are the less capable. The smart young people will look elsewhere.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on

It is true that PISA tests don't tell the whole story. As as profession, teachers need to learn how to explain the work they do and the results they achieve. Whenever a news story appears about a standardised test with the tabloid message of schools are failing and teachers are to blame, we need to provide an alternative story of quality <strong><a href="">cream temulawak asli</a></strong> work being done. We need our own PR machine that educates the general public and provides a good news story that grabs people's imaginations and raises the profile of education as a positive force in everyone's life.

Submitted by Jodie Bennett (not verified) on

How often do some take credit for the achievement of high-performing students but pass responsibility for low performance on family, social or other contextual factors?

Submitted by Prisca (not verified) on

PISA Top performers: China (Shanghai), Singapore, Hong Kong; Taiwan, South Korea, Finland and Switzerland. Shouldn't we be asking how these countries educate their young? What role do parents play in their education? How seriously do they (parents and students) take education? How many hours per week do they study? What kind of after-school support do they get? Australian educational researchers and authorities blame teachers. In those countries teachers are not blamed for students' laziness or parents' apathy. And students are not going to be consulted, to rate their teachers like in Australia. This unfortunate trend (Australia sliding further down) will continue if Australian-born children and their parents don't take education more seriously.

Submitted by Anthony Weir (not verified) on

The answer depends on the question. I am not sure that we are asking the right question, therefore we tend to end up with a solution that is vague. Teacher education, socioeconomic factors, standards are all influences. Has anyone asked why we continue to expect that an Industrial Revolution mdoel of education should produce such good results inthe 21st Century? Do we consider education a cost burden or an investment in our future? You can't buy a superior product at a cheap shop.

Submitted by Michael McMahon (not verified) on

There was a report that came out at the same time as the Gonski but it received very little attention because it didn't talk about money. It was done by the Grattan Institute and examined why the South East Asian schools were succeeding. It found that a narrow curriculum and reduced contact time for teachers enabled opportunities for professional development and peer-mentoring programs. I know, in my own school, that time is the single largest factor that impacts on my ability to create excellent learning experiences for my students. Why isn't the discussion about time? We can have all the standards we want, if there is not enough time to meet them, then what is the point?

Submitted by Margery Evans (not verified) on

Parental support and expectations have a huge impact on student success. Parents taking education seriously makes a difference!

The report 'Parental engagement in learning and schooling: Lessons from the Research' ( points to the important role parents and carers play in combining a focus on student learning together with student development and wellbeing. It is clear about the positive impact parental involvement can have on student achievement including higher marks and test scores as well as better social skills and a greater sense of personal competence and efficacy for learning.

Margery Evans
Chief Executive Officer

Submitted by Ben Barlow (not verified) on

While we talk about standards and give lip service to the importance of highly trained teachers and how to retain them, we seem to overlook the obvious. There is a massive shortage of mathematics and science teachers.
The report from the auditor general found
Clearly indicates the impact this is having with 34% of year 8 students in Australia having an out of field mathematics teacher (not trained in mathematics), while in Queensland OneSchool (the Queensland Department of Education database) found at least 46% of junior mathematics teachers were teaching out of field (i.e. not trained to teach mathematics).
When we consider that the international average for using out of field teacher to teach mathematics is only 12%, is it any wonder that our results are falling. As a country and community we need to decide on our priorities for addressing the issue of student achievement and the value we place on specialist knowledge.

Submitted by Cath Grealy (not verified) on

It is true that PISA tests don't tell the whole story. As as profession, teachers need to learn how to explain the work they do and the results they achieve. Whenever a news story appears about a standardised test with the tabloid message of schools are failing and teachers are to blame, we need to provide an alternative story of quality work being done. We need our own PR machine that educates the general public and provides a good news story that grabs people's imaginations and raises the profile of education as a positive force in everyone's life.

Submitted by Sue Cridge (not verified) on

I would like to propose that this discussion is overlooking the critical role that great leadership has to play in creating the right culture to enable excellent teaching. Community, parental and carer support and involvement are also important, excellent teaching is central but where is the reference to and inclusion of excellent leadership? I propose it is essential.

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