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International and domestic test performance

Synopsis: Australia’s performance on international and domestic standardised tests is either stalling or in decline, with our position in global rankings slipping.

Following the release of three critical reports in the last month, there is no denying Australia’s education system is failing to provide equitable access to education for all students. But before we get ahead of ourselves, below you will find a brief snapshot of the outcomes of each assessment. 


TIMSS has measured student achievement in maths and science at Year 4 and Year 8 in Australia and many other countries since 1995.

Australian performances in mathematics and science have stagnated over the past 20 years, with little change in Australian students’ achievement since 1995.

The TIMSS results show that around one-third of Year 4 students and around one-third of Year 8 students fail to achieve the nationally agreed proficient standard, set by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) as the TIMSS intermediate benchmark. This benchmark was thought to represent a “challenging but reasonable” expectation of student achievement.

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The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a worldwide study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in member and non-member nations of 15-year-old school pupils' scholastic performance on mathematics, science, and reading.

The latest results, published earlier this month, reveal Australian student performance has seen a steady decline since 2000, both in terms of overly simple international comparisons and absolute mean scores.

The results show that Australia has one of the widest ranges of student achievement, with a long tail of underachievement. 

Another important finding from the study, is the difference between students in the highest socioeconomic quartile and the lowest, showing a gap of nearly three years of schooling. Similar differences are seen when comparing Indigenous students with non-Indigenous students.

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The National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) is an annual national assessment for all students in Years 3, 5, 7, and 9. All students in these year levels are expected to participate in tests in reading, writing, language conventions (spelling, grammar and punctuation) and numeracy.

Since NAPLAN testing began in 2008, all year groups’ results have improved (overall). Most notably, there have been improvements in year 3 and 5 reading, year 3 spelling, grammar and punctuation, and year 5 numeracy. However, this year’s report has also revealed a flatlining trend and we have seen a stagnation of children’s literacy and numeracy skills.

It has been excellent to see Indigenous students making significant gains since 2008, particularly in Indigenous students in Year 3 and Year 5 in reading and numeracy. However, Australia still has a lot of work to do towards closing the achievement gap.

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How do we reduce the achievement gap and improve student outcomes?

Inequality in education is not inevitable. The PISA report revealed that in Vietnam, the 10% most disadvantaged students do as well as the average student in an OECD country.

In order to improve the entire cohort of Australian students, policy-makers must address the systemic inequality in Australia’s schools, ensuring that every Australian student is given access to a meaningful education. This action will inevitably shorten the “long tail of underachievement” and improve student outcomes overall.

At a time when education spending is at a record high, we need to assess where the money is being spent and how to safeguard against under and over-funding. No, this does not mean funding cuts. Education is an investment, not an expenditure.

Something for the education ministers (meeting to discuss future funding plans this week) to ponder:

"Education is a pretty patient investment in quite an impatient world. People want to see quick results. It takes years to educate a child”

Julia Gillard

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Peak parent body sets position on education

The Western Australian Council of State School Organisations Inc. (WACSSO) today released its 2017 state election position paper.

WACSSO President Kylie Catto said the paper is based on affiliates feedback, observations and concerns.

“WACSSO has been listening to its affiliates throughout the past four years.

“As a result of our close relationship with government school parents, we have produced a state election position paper setting the position of WACSSO on key issues pertinent to education in Western Australia."

The paper details the peak parent body’s position on a range of topics: school funding, resourcing and support; school populations; school community wellbeing and support; road and school safety; Independent Public Schools, community engagement; school fees, contributions and charges; and Information Communication Technology.

WACSSO has requested a response on these issues from each of the major political parties. A summary of these responses will be compiled into a report card to assist affiliates and the WA public in making an informed decision come polling day. A copy of the report card will be made available prior to the state election.

The WA state election will be held on 11 March 2017.

Read the paper here.

Survey results reinforce value of parent organisations in schools

A survey released by the State Teachers Union of WA has confirmed critical role that voluntary charges and donations play in funding WA’s schools.

Of the almost 3,000 public school teachers and principals surveyed, 60% believed voluntary contributions and school fundraising were either ‘important’ or ‘very important’ to ensure schools could offer the education programs students needed.

SSTUWA president Pat Byrne said that many believed P&C fundraising was vital to their school.

“This survey shows that public schools are increasingly relying on fundraising to meet their basic needs,” she said.

“The charges were never intended to pay for vital education programs or staff, but some schools are finding this is the only way to cover costs, which are increasing as more and more responsibilities are pushed onto schools.”

WA Council of State School Organisations president Kylie Catto has said the survey results have reinforced the value of parent organisations in schools.

“Many respondents have acknowledged the crucial contribution made by parent organisations to school resourcing – without them, schools wouldn’t be able to afford some of the programs and resources they are currently providing.

“It is the State Government’s responsibility to fund education to a level that mitigates the need for parental fees, charges and contributions.

“More funding is needed in order to cover core learning activities and outstanding maintenance, so that P&C funding can be utilised effectively in other areas.”

“In 2015 WACSSO ran an inaugural survey that revealed the significant and increasing level of financial support P&Cs provided to schools, however, that was only one part of P&C’s invaluable contribution to schools.

“We found that P&Cs were giving their time at an average rate of 70.5 hours per week per school – that’s almost two full time jobs! 

“This adds up to more than 1.8 million hours per year donated by P&C volunteers to WA public schools.

"We also found through survey responses that P&Cs are being relied upon increasingly to provide finance and resources for items historically supplied through government funding, such as basic learning resources, ICT, outdoor shade provision and even furniture and general maintenance.”

WACSSO will be running the survey again, starting in December, to further assess the substantial contributions of parent organisations to WA schools.

Read the report here.