This PISA-03 thematic report explores the ability of New Zealand 15-year-old students to apply their science knowledge and skills to real-life situations.
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 tell us about science?PISA tells us how well students can use scientific knowledge to identify questions and draw evidence-based conclusions that are useful in real life situations, both for public and private decision making and for problem solving. This requires them to use knowledge from the main areas of science, to think scientifically, and to apply this knowledge and these skills in a range of situations that they will encounter as adults.
How good are New Zealand students at science?On average, New Zealand students are significantly1 better than other students across the OECD countries.
More precisely, New Zealand has more students with high science skills and fewer students with low science skills, on average, compared to other OECD countries. However, there is scope for improvement. New Zealand has more than twice as many low-skill students as Finland, which is one of the two best-performing countries, and a third fewer high-performing students than the other best-performing country, Japan.
The amount of variation in performance among New Zealand students is close to the international average.
What are the differences in science between different groups in New Zealand?
- Boys do significantly better overall in science than girls, but girls are no more likely than boys to score below 400 points on the science scale. The advantage boys have is in reaching high, rather than medium, levels of performance.
- There were significant differences between the mean science scores of all four main ethnic groups, with Pākehā/European students doing best on average, followed by Asian, Māori and Pasifika respectively.
- Students from families with high socio-economic status do much better than those from lower socio-economic status families. This advantage is accentuated by the differences in performance levels between high-decile and low-decile schools2. Around 30% of students attending low-decile schools scored below 400 points compared with only 5% of high-decile schools.
Are 15-year-old New Zealander’s science abilities getting better or worse?This is just the second PISA survey and comparisons with the first one in 2000 show no change overall in science. However, there was a significant drop in the performance of girls between the two surveys. In 2000, New Zealand was one of only four countries where girls outperformed boys in science, whereas in 2003 it was one of 12 OECD countries where boys outperformed girls. This result must be treated with caution since a single change of this kind cannot be considered to be a trend.
- Throughout this report, the term ‘significantly’ refers to statistical significance at the 0.05 level.
- A school’s decile indicates the extent to which the school draws its students from low or high socio-economic communities. It does not indicate the overall socio-economic mix of the school.
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