PISA 2015: The science context for PISA

Publication Details

The findings presented come from the administration of PISA 2015 where the main domain was science and cover both science achievement and the context in which the science learning of 15-year-old students takes place. This report is divided into two main sections: student-related science outcomes and teaching-related science outcomes.

The first section examines the motivation, attitudes, and beliefs of 15-year-old students with respect to science education, as well as their out of class experiences with science and expectations of future careers in science. The relationship between students’ achievement in science and their attitudes to and engagement with science are also examined, and comparisons are made by gender and main ethnic groupings.

The second section looks at the situation in which science education occurs; namely the teaching practices used in the science classroom, and the qualifications and professional knowledge of those teaching science to our 15-year-olds.


“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): Sarah Kirkham with Steve May, Comparative Education Research Unit, Ministry of Education

Date Published: December 2016

Key findings

  • New Zealand 15-year-olds had higher levels of positive beliefs when it came to knowledge about the nature of science (epistemic beliefs), enjoyment of learning science, interest in broad science topics, and views on the usefulness of science for their future plans (instrumental motivation) than students on average across the OECD. Students with the highest levels of these science motivations, beliefs, and behaviours had higher achievement on average than those at the lowest levels. New Zealand students tended to, however, feel less confident in their own science competency and were less likely to be involved in science-related activities than the average OECD student.
  • Similar rates of New Zealand students expected to have a science-related career at age 30 to the OECD average. This rate has not significantly changed for New Zealand since PISA 2006.
  • Boys tended to have more positive views than girls on science topics of potential interest, their own science competence, and science-related activities. A higher proportion of girls expected to work in a science-related field than boys, mostly because a higher proportion of girls expected to work as health professionals. This was a similar pattern across the OECD.
  • Māori students tended to be less positive when it came to attitudes, motivation, and engagement with science than non-Māori students, whereas Asian students tended to be more positive than non-Asian students.
  • Pākeha/European students had higher levels of epistemic beliefs and self-efficacy but reported lower levels of enjoyment, instrumental motivation, and participated less in science-related activities than non-Pākehā/European students. Pasifika students reported lower levels of epistemic beliefs and self-efficacy than non-Pasifika students.
  • New Zealand students are being taught by a well-qualified science teaching workforce, with a high percentage of science teachers being fully certified9 and also having a degree-level qualification with a major in science, higher than on average across the OECD. New Zealand also has one of the highest proportions of professional development programme attendance across the OECD and above average rates of in-house professional development. Neither science teacher qualifications nor professional development had a relationship with science achievement.
  • New Zealand had higher rates of students in schools where the teachers used teacher-directed science instruction, perceived feedback from science teachers, adaptive instruction in science lessons, and enquiry based science than was the average across the OECD. Higher rates of teacher-directed instruction methods and adaptive instruction in science lessons were associated with higher achievement, whereas higher rates of perceived feedback from science teachers and enquiry-based science instruction were associated with lower achievement.

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