PISA 2015: New Zealand headline results

Publication Details

Scientific literacy was the major focus in PISA 2015 and reading and mathematics literacy the minor focuses. In New Zealand over 4,500 students from 183 schools took part in the study in July/August 2015.


“A prior version of these reports was published on the 6th December 2016. There was a minor error that has now been corrected. These reports are accurate as of 22 December 2016”.

Author(s): Comparative Education Research Unit, Ministry of Education

Date Published: December 2016



  • New Zealand students score above the OECD average in science, reading and mathematics.
  • Australian students have similar average scores in science and mathematics, and have lower average scores in reading.
  • New Zealand student performance remained relatively stable up to 2009. Between 2009 and 2012 performance in mathematics, reading and science declined but still remained above the OECD average. Between 2012 and 2015 performance in all three subjects stabilised again.
  • New Zealand's relative overall standing among all countries in the study has improved since PISA 2012. These changes are mainly due to performance decreases for some countries that were previously ranked higher than, or similar to, New Zealand.
  • PISA scores indicate that around 83% of New Zealand students can do basic science and reading tasks expected for their age. This is larger than the OECD proportions of 79% (science) and 80% (reading) and has remained about the same in New Zealand since 2012.
  • We have one of the highest proportions of top performers in science and reading across the OECD countries in the study. A relatively high proportion of our students are top performers in at least one subject area (20%) compared to the OECD average of 15%. Around 6% of New Zealand students are top performer 'all rounders', who score at the highest levels in all three subjects (compared with the OECD average of 4%).
  • Overall, New Zealand is a country characterised by relatively high achievement when compared to the OECD average.


  • When we look at different science competencies our students demonstrated their greatest strength in 'evaluating and designing scientific enquiry' compared with slightly lower achievement in 'interpreting data and evidence scientifically' and 'explaining phenomena scientifically'.
  • In terms of different science topics our students perform equally well on tasks related to 'physical systems', 'earth and space' and 'living systems'.
  • New Zealand is counted among the 10 PISA countries and economies with the widest spread of achievement in science literacy. There is a wider gap between the top ten percent and bottom ten percent of our students than in most other OECD countries.


  • Overall New Zealand boys did slightly better than girls in mathematics and girls performed much better than boys in reading. There was no significant difference between boys and girls in science achievement.
  • Socio-economic advantage has a stronger impact on achievement in New Zealand than many OECD countries. There is a larger difference in achievement between students from advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds in New Zealand compared to the OECD average. However, compared to earlier cycles socio-economic background is not such a strong predictor of how well a student will achieve.
  • Overall European/Pākehā and Asian students scored above the OECD average in science, reading and mathematics. Māori and Pasifika students scored below the OECD average in all three subjects.
  • A relatively high proportion of Māori and Pasifika students score in the lower proficiency levels in all three subjects compared to New Zealand students overall. However, Māori and Pasifika students are represented at all proficiency levels. For instance, 3% of Māori students in mathematics, 4% in reading and 5% in science achieve at the top levels of proficiency.

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