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Educational Attainment: School Students' Mathematics and Science Literacy
Selected countries: PISA mean mathematics and science literacy scores(a)
Internationally, 15 year olds are nearing the end of compulsory secondary schooling.3 The mathematical and scientific literacy of 15 year olds is an indicator of how well equipped they are for future education, work and life.
In 2003, PISA results showed Australian 15 year olds performed well when compared with 41 OECD and other countries across both maths and science scores. Australia's mean scores of 524 in mathematical literacy and 525 in scientific literacy placed it above the OECD average of 500 for each skill area and in the top third of countries.
Four countries performed significantly better than Australia in mathematical literacy (Finland, Hong Kong-China, Korea and the Netherlands), while nine countries including Canada and New Zealand had similar scores. In science, three countries scored significantly higher than Australia while eight countries (also including New Zealand and Canada) had similar results. Australia performed significantly better than the remaining countries.
Most countries had some variation between their performance in 2000 and 2003. Australian students' average performance was similar in 2000 and 2003, but more countries outperformed Australia in 2003.
Over four in ten Australian students (43%) were capable of tackling items in mathematics with moderate difficulty through to items with relatively high difficulty (proficiency level 4 through to level 6). Only 14% were unable to do items with relatively low difficulty (level 1 or below). (endnote 3)
While Australian students attained a good overall result in 2003, achievement varied across students with different characteristics. Maths and science literacy is associated with a variety of social and demographic factors such as sex, socioeconomic status, family background, teacher characteristics and school setting.
Mathematics and science mean scores(a) and proficiency levels - 2003
Research shows that overall, while many boys in Australian schools are doing well, boys are not achieving as well as girls across a range of educational and social measures. Boys are more likely to drop out of school early and less likely to go on to university than girls.5 However, recent research on school subject selection and subsequent study and work participation in Australia has found that males are still much more likely than females to be taking advanced mathematics and science at senior secondary school, and much more likely to move into mathematics and science- related courses in higher education. (endnote 3)
In 2003, there were no significant sex differences in scores for Australian 15 year olds, with boys' mathematical literacy (mean score of 527) similar to that of girls' (522). Overall, more boys (45%) than girls (42%) achieved the higher levels of proficiency (levels 4, 5 and 6.3). Australian male and female students had the same average score of 525 for scientific literacy.
...states and territories
There are differences in school starting ages between Australian states and territories, which makes it difficult to compare aspects of education. The bulk of students tested were in Year 10 for all the states with the exception of Western Australia where more than half were in Year 11. (endnote 3)
In all states and territories, Australian 15 year old students performed on average at least as well as the average performance of students across all OECD countries in the study. Students in the Australian Capital Territory and Western Australia scored the highest within Australia, on average, in mathematical and scientific literacy. Over half of their students performed at or above the top three proficiency levels in mathematical literacy. (endnote 3) The average scores of the Australian Capital Territory and Western Australia were similar to the highest performing countries for mathematics and science. (endnote 3)
STATE/TERRITORY MEAN SCORES(a) - 2003
Indigenous and non-Indigenous mathematics proficiency levels(a) - 2003
Students attending schools in rural and remote areas experience educational disadvantage in a variety of ways. In remote areas, some of the major issues are recruiting and retaining teachers, barriers to accessing educational services and issues surrounding the access to, costs and use of information and communications technology. (endnote 6)
In 2003, metropolitan students had higher mean scores in both mathematical and scientific literacy (528 and 529) compared with provincial or rural (515 and 516) and remote areas (493 and 489).(endnote 3) These geographic locations have been coded using the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA) Schools Geographic Location Classification.
The National Indigenous English Literacy and Numeracy Strategy was launched in 2000 with the objective to achieve literacy and numeracy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students at levels comparable to those achieved by other young Australians.7 The 2003 PISA results for Indigenous students were consistently lower than for non-Indigenous students. Indigenous students had a mean mathematics literacy score of 440 and science score of 434, compared with non-Indigenous students scores of 526 and 527 respectively. (endnote 3)
For mathematical literacy, there was an over- representation of Indigenous students at the lowest proficiency levels (1 and below - 43%) compared with all students in Australia (14%) and the OECD average of 21%. However, 13% of Indigenous students were performing at the higher levels (levels 4-6). (endnote 3)
OTHER FACTORS AFFECTING PERFORMANCE
The home environment has an influence on the reading literacy and numeracy outcomes for students. (See Australian Social Trends 2002, Literacy and numeracy among school students). Further analysis of the PISA results for 15 year old students in Australia has shown a moderately positive relationship between the mathematical literacy performance of 15 year old students and home environment factors such as parental education, the number of books in the home, computer resources, access to educational software and cultural possessions in the home, such as books of poetry and works of art. (endnote 3)
Books are an important educational resource. The number of books in the home were found to be related to student performance in PISA 2003. On average a student whose home had between 201-500 books scored 76 points higher in mathematical literacy and 89 points higher in scientific literacy than a student who had 11-25 books in their home. (endnote 3)
The OECD developed a socioeconomic index based on the types of factors discussed above. In 2003, Australian students in the lowest quartile of the socioeconomic index (signifying the highest degree of disadvantage) scored about 79 points less in mathematical literacy than students in the highest quartile (signifying the lowest degree of disadvantage). Overall, socioeconomic status had less of an impact on mathematics performance in Australia than across other OECD countries on average. (endnote 3)
In 2003, Australian students who spoke English at home had higher average scores for both mathematical and scientific literacy (scores of 529 in each domain) than those who spoke a language other than English at home (505 and 509 respectively). (endnote 3)
STUDY BEYOND SCHOOL
Mathematics and science skills acquired at secondary level enable some students to attend university. Students with a mathematics and science background in Year 12 were more likely to enter higher education than other Year 12 students. (endnote 8)
In 2004, almost all people (94%) who were studying in the natural and physical sciences field (e.g. mathematics, chemistry and biology) in a non-school environment were enrolled in a bachelor degree or above. There has been an increase in the number of people with a degree in the natural and physical sciences at this level, from 147,000 in 1994 to 205,000 in 2004. However, as a proportion of all people with a bachelor degree or above, these students declined from 11% to 8% over the period. (endnote 9) (endnote 10).
1 Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs 1999, The National Goals for Schooling in the Twenty-first Century, <http://www.mceetya.edu.au/mceetya/>, accessed 16 May 2005.
2 Penman, R 2004, An easy reference guide to Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth research reports, 1996-2003, Australian Council for Educational Research, Camberwell.
3 Thomson, S. et al 2004, Facing the Future: A focus on mathematical literacy among Australian 15 year old students in PISA 2003, Australian Council for Educational Research, Camberwell.
4 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2004, Learning for Tomorrow's World; First Results from PISA 2003, OECD, Paris.
5 Boys' education <http://www.dest.gov.au/sectors/school_education/policy_initiatives_reviews/key_issues/boys_education/default.htm> accessed May 27 2005.
6 Department of Education, Science and Training 2003, National Evaluation of the Country Areas Program, 2002-03 <http://www.dest.gov.au/
sectors/school_education/publications_resources/profiles/national_evaluation_of_the_country_areas_program_2002_03.htm> accessed 14 June 2005.
7 Department of Education, Science and Training 2003, Final Report on the National Evaluation of National Indigenous English Literacy and Numeracy Strategy(NIELS), <http://www.dest.gov.au/sectors/indigenous education/publications_resources/profiles/final_report_nielns.htm> accessed June 14 2005.
8 Lamb, S and Ball, K 1999, Curriculum and careers: The education and labour market consequences of Year 12 subject choice, Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth Research Report no. 12, Australian Council for Educational Research, Camberwell.
9 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2004, Survey of Education and Work, cat. no. 6227.0, ABS, Canberra
10 Australian Bureau of Statistics 1994, Transitions from Education to Work, cat. no. 6227.0, ABS, Canberra.