Patrice Dougan is the Herald's education reporter.

New Zealand pupils below average in maths results - TIMSS

New Zealand ranks below England, Ireland, the USA, and Australia across maths at both Year 5 and Year 9 and science at Year 5. Photo / Brett Phibbs
New Zealand ranks below England, Ireland, the USA, and Australia across maths at both Year 5 and Year 9 and science at Year 5. Photo / Brett Phibbs

New Zealand students are performing below the international average when it comes to maths, but slightly beating their counterparts in science.

Data released tonight from the 2015 Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) show improvements in maths since the last study was carried out in 2011, but pupils here are still falling behind other nations.

TIMSS tests Year 5 and Year 9 students every four years in maths and science, and compares the results on an international scale. More than 580,000 students in 57 countries took part in the 2015 study.

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And while New Zealand showed improvements in both subjects - particularly science - the country ranks below England, Ireland, the USA, and Australia across maths at both Year 5 and Year 9 and science at Year 5.

East Asian countries dominated the top of the lists, with Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea, Chinese Taipei and Japan continuing to outperform all participating countries in maths at both grade levels.

The 2015 study marked 20 years since the first TIMSS, and Dr Ina Mullis from the study centre at Boston College, which carried out the test, said achievement trends are up globally over that period.

"The positive trends indicate education is improving worldwide, and it's not at the expense of equity between high and low achieving students," Mullis said.

Education Minister Hekia Parata in her Beehive office. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Education Minister Hekia Parata in her Beehive office. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Globally the study also found that more students than ever were reaching the highest levels of achievement, and gender gaps were narrowing.

That played out in New Zealand, where girls slightly outperformed boys at both levels of science, and Year 9 maths. Boys narrowly had the edge at Year 5 maths.

At Year 5, New Zealand maths students showed a weakness in numbers, but performed well at data display.

Algebra and geometry were areas of weakness for Year 9 maths students.

New Zealand was among 17 countries which improved their average achievement among Year 5 science pupils.

More students in this group reached advanced, high, intermediate and basic achievement levels in the study, than previous years.

Life science was identified as a strength for this group, but they fell down in physical science.

Sandy Pasley said maths teaching was an area that New Zealand needed to look at. Photo / File
Sandy Pasley said maths teaching was an area that New Zealand needed to look at. Photo / File

The Year 9 group also achieved better this time around, with more hitting the advanced and high benchmarks.

These students did well in biology, but struggled with chemistry compared to their international counterparts.

Sandy Pasley, president of the Secondary Principals Association of New Zealand (SPANZ), said maths teaching was an area that New Zealand needed to look at.

Recent initiatives had seen different strategies of teaching the subject, she said, and sometimes key areas, like algebra, were neglected.

But it was "fantastic" that science results were up, she said.

Maths teacher Jake Wills, from MathsNZ, said there was a cultural acceptance of not being good at maths.

"One of the big issues we've got in New Zealand is, it's not okay to say I can't read or write, but it's perfectly okay to say I'm no good at maths.

"That's a big societal issue, it's not something that's just in schools, it's something that's everywhere."

Louise Green said the Government needed to "reverse its cuts to public school funding" if it wanted to raise educational achievement. Photo / Stephen Parker
Louise Green said the Government needed to "reverse its cuts to public school funding" if it wanted to raise educational achievement. Photo / Stephen Parker

Louise Green, New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) president, said the Government needed to "reverse its cuts to public school funding" if it wanted to raise educational achievement.

"A strong, well-funded public education system is the only way to ensure that all New Zealand children have access to a great education."

Education Minister Hekia Parata said she was encouraged by the latest TIMSS results, and congratulated students on their hard work.

Average scores had not only stabilised, but increased from 2011, she said.

However, the report highlighted there was still more work to do to lift the achievement levels of Maori and Pasifika students, Parata said.

"Although the gap between our top performers and our lowest has closed significantly in recent years, it is still too wide.

"Next year, for the first time, our Government is targeting operational funding to students most at risk of educational underachievement as part of our investment to address this gap."

- NZ Herald

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