Science literacy achievement: senior secondary schooling

What We Have Found

New Zealand is continuing its high performance in scientific literacy at the senior secondary level, with only one out of 34 OECD countries achieving a significantly higher mean score than New Zealand.

Date Updated: December 2010

Indicator Description

Scientific literacy of 15 year-old students.

Why This Is Important

Scientific literacy assists students to participate as responsible and informed members of society, and as productive contributors to New Zealand's economy and future.

Attainment at senior secondary level contributes to preparation for successful participation in tertiary education, and the ability to contribute to, and participate in, a changing labour market and an increasingly knowledge-based society.  Attainment level is also related to individual well being.

How We Are Going

Scientific literacy was a minor domain in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2009, after being the major domain in PISA 2006.

Three scientific competencies - identifying scientific issues, explaining phenomena scientifically, and using scientific evidence – and two scientific knowledge areas – knowledge of science and knowledge about science were assessed as part of the combined scientific literacy scale. Due to changes in the way scientific literacy has been assessed, no comparison can be made with the results for PISA 2000 and 2003.

Overall in PISA 2009, New Zealand performed very strongly in scientific literacy, with only Finland among OECD countries achieving a significantly higher mean score.  Shanghai-China, Hong Kong-China and Singapore also achieved a significantly higher mean score than New Zealand.  New Zealand’s performance was similar to six other OECD countries, including Australia, and significantly above 29 other OECD countries, including the United Kingdom and the United States.

Figure 1: Distribution of overall scientific literacy scores in PISA (2006 and 2009)

New Zealand was one of the four best performing countries in terms of reaching the highest proficiency levels in scientific literacy, with 18% reaching Level 5 or above.  Thirteen percent of New Zealand 15 year-old students did not reach beyond the lowest level of scientific literacy (Level 1), a proportion which was significantly lower than the average across the OECD countries.

In PISA 2009, there was no significant difference between the mean science scores of New Zealand 15 year-old boys and girls.  This was also the case for the average difference across the OECD countries.

Figure 2: Percentage of New Zealand 15 year-old students reaching the PISA scientific literacy proficiency levels (2009)

Both European/Pākehā and Asian students achieved a mean score significantly above the OECD average with European/ Pākehā students, in particular, performing very strongly in scientific literacy.  Māori and Pasifika student performance was significantly below the OECD average.  A lower proportion of Māori and Pasifika students achieved at the highest levels of proficiency in science, and these students were over-represented at the lower levels when compared with European/Pākehā and Asian students. 


 Copyright © Education Counts 2014   |   Contact for enquiries.