PISA 2003: Mathematics skills for tomorrow’s world Publications
This PISA-03 thematic report assesses the ability of New Zealand 15-year-old students to apply their mathematical knowledge, skills and competencies in ways that will help them in the world outside school.
Author(s): Ministry of Education
Date Published: November 2009
What is PISA?
The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a three-yearly international survey of 15-year-olds that assesses their knowledge and skills for modern life. In 2003, the survey was carried out in the 30 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries, plus 11 other countries, and it tested over a quarter of a million students, including 4500 from New Zealand.
What does PISA 2003 tell us about mathematics?
PISA tells us how well students can use their mathematical skills and knowledge to solve problems in real-life situations. Specifically, it shows how well they can reproduce mathematical processes, make connections, and reflect on mathematics to apply their mathematical skills and knowledge in the main content areas that represent well-established branches of mathematical thinking and form the basis of standard teaching syllabuses.
How good are New Zealand students in mathematics?
On average, New Zealand students do significantly1 better in mathematics than students across the OECD countries, with a stronger overall performance than students in 17 countries, a weaker performance than those in just three countries, and a performance that is approximately equal to those in eight countries.
More precisely, New Zealand has more 15-year-old students with high proficiency and fewer students with low proficiency than most countries. The most able 7% of 15-year-old New Zealand students can do highly complex tasks that only 4% of students are capable of across the OECD (Level 6). A wide range of relatively difficult tasks can be completed by 43% of New Zealand students compared to 34% internationally (proficiency at least at Level 4). On the other hand, 15% of New Zealand students have very limited mathematics skills that make them proficient, at most, at Level 1, compared with 21% on average in the OECD countries.
Measures of spread in mathematics performance show that the variation between New Zealand students is similar to that for all OECD countries on average. However, some countries, such as Finland, Korea, and Canada, have much smaller variations between students.
There are some differences between New Zealand students’ performance in the different content areas of mathematics. Their performance on quantitative tasks is relatively weak, at a level not much above the international average. On the other hand, in tasks that require the use of statistics and an understanding of probability, they do relatively better than in other areas. Here, the best 5% of performers are particularly strong. They do better than their counterparts in every other OECD country.
What are the differences in mathematics between different groups in New Zealand?
- Boys perform better than girls in all four content areas of mathematics, and overall the gender difference is significant. However, boys are just as likely as girls to have low proficiency; the advantage for boys is in reaching high rather than medium levels of performance.
- Māori and Pasifika students are more likely to have low mathematics proficiency compared with Pākehā/European and Asian students. Only 2% of Māori students and 1% of Pasifika students reach Level 6, compared with 9% of Pākehā/European and Asian students.
- Students from families with high socio-economic status, particularly those from high-decile schools, do better. Those in the three lowest school deciles (the bottom 30% of schools with 17% of all students) are five times as likely to have low mathematics proficiency as students in high-decile schools (the top 30% of schools with 36% of students).
Are 15-year-old New Zealanders’ mathematics abilities getting better or worse?
This is just the second PISA assessment and only two of the four areas of mathematics assessed in 2003 (space and shape and change and relationships) were also assessed in 2000. On these two scales, there was no significant change in overall student performance. However, there were substantial declines in performance among Māori girls and among students from low-decile schools in the two areas of mathematics that were assessed in both cycles of PISA. It is too early to call these trends, but they are worth keeping under review.
- Throughout this report, the term significantly refers to statistical significance at the 0.05 level.
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