Analysis: Teacher’s report would say, ‘Satisfactory progress, but could do better’

Pisa results are a sign of success, but we are only tracking above average


Commentators from the Minister for Education to the teachers’ unions have responded positively to the Pisa international assessment of student abilities. And while some satisfaction can be taken from a more positive set of figures than arrived in 2009, there is cause for concern about Ireland’s performance.

One major problem relates to the fact that our results “flatline” over time, the graph showing our performance over the past few cycles of Pisa remaining stubbornly horizontal. If the underlying educational performance of our 15 year olds who took part were genuinely improving, the graph line should be slanted upwards.

Unfortunately, it is not.

The statistics related to student literacy in reading, maths and science also show that we are above, and often well above, the average results from all the OECD countries. This has been presented as a sign of success, but, ultimately, we are tracking only above average, something that would elicit a “satisfactory progress, but could do better” in a teacher’s report.

Print reading
This can be seen, for example, by looking at our performance in print reading (as opposed to reading on a screen). This was apparently an area of particular strength with a seventh of 65 countries ranking.

The OECD average score was 496.5, and at 523.2 we were well above that. Yet the gap is much wider between us and the 569.6 score achieved by first-placed Shanghai- China, with Ireland 26.7 points above the OECD average but 46.4 below the top echelons.

Pisa measures in proficiency levels and print reading have seven levels. Level two is considered the minimum needed for work, education and society, while five or higher is considered to be for the higher-achieving students.

While Ireland has been making strides in reducing the numbers in level two or below, the numbers in level five and above are below what they should be.