NZ’s ‘PISA shock’ a signal for change
• NZ student performance drops in maths, science, and reading.
• One in five not equipped with skills needed to participate in the workforce.
• First major drop in performance ever.
• Teachers key to lifting Pisa performance
Wellington (4 December) - New Zealand’s sudden drop in the international education rankings is a clear signal that the
country needs to lift teacher quality if wants students to be able to participate in the modern workplace, said The New
Compared to the 2009 results, 15 year olds saw their overall ranking in the Programme for International Student
Assessment (Pisa) fall across the board, dropping from 7th to 13th in reading, 13th to 23rd in mathematics, and 7th to
18th in science.
Meanwhile, Shanghai, Singapore, and Hong Kong dominated the top three Pisa positions respectively, lifting or
maintaining their performance in the core learning areas compared to the 2009 test.
However, the results showed a further improvement by Germany, a country that has made significant changes to its
education systems after Pisa scores showed it was lagging behind in student achievement.
“This is our ‘Pisa shock’ moment,” said Rose Patterson, Research Fellow at the Initiative. “The same thing happened to
Germany in 2000, and they took it as a signal to implement major reforms to their education system, a change that was
not just backed, but led by the unions.”
“They’ve since lifted their performance, and are now ranked 16th in the world. We were well ahead of Germany three years
ago. Now, they have surged ahead of us. Hopefully we can take a lesson from them and use this ‘Pisa shock’ as a catalyst
to change the system for the better.”
Patterson, who recently completed a research tour of Singapore, Canada, Finland, England, and Germany, noted that one of
the major differences between New Zealand and theses countries is a focus on teaching as a profession.
“Outside of the home, teachers are the single biggest factor that affects student performance,” said Rose Patterson,
Education Research Fellow at the Initiative. “In countries like Singapore and Germany, they recognise the link between
the status of the teachers and the ability to attract the best and brightest graduates to the profession.”
“If we want to lift our rankings in the next Pisa test, we need to see what teaching frameworks are in place among these
top performing countries, and implement this best practice in New Zealand.”
The drop in New Zealand’s PISA performance last year is partly explained by Asia’s strong showing, but the level of
achievement in the core areas also fell as well. Compared with 2009, reading dropped nine points, mathematics 19 points,
and science 16 points.
Patterson said that while the overall figures were a concern, even more alarming was the ranking of students at the
bottom end of the scale, with almost 23 per cent of all students in New Zealand performing at level 1 or below in
mathematics, an increase of 7 percentage points on 2009.
“According to international research, what this means is that one out of every five students will struggle to get into a
university, polytech or even function effectively in the workforce,” she said. “That’s very worrying in an increasingly
competitive global economy, where a qualification is becoming a minimum requirement for entry into many careers.”
A similar trend was seen across science and reading, with the rankings reducing slightly from 2003 to 2009, and then
dropping off sharply in 2012.
About the New Zealand Initiative
The New Zealand Initiative is an evidence-based think tank and research institute, which is supported by a membership
organisation that counts some of the country’s leading visionaries, business leaders and political thinkers among its
Our members are committed to developing policies to make New Zealand a better country for all its citizens. We believe
all New Zealanders deserve a world-class education system, affordable housing, a healthy environment, sound public
finances and a stable currency.
The New Zealand Initiative pursues this goal by participating in public life, and making a contribution to public
For more information visit www.nzinitiative.org.nz