OECD report shows long-term drop in New Zealand children's academic performance

Rear view of group of students raising hands to answer teacher's question in the classroom. Focus is on hands in the middle.
Photo credit: Getty

A new report paints a grim picture of our students' academic performance.

The latest OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which assesses the academic performance of 15-year-olds around the world, showed Kiwi students are falling behind in maths, science and reading.

The report found that although New Zealand was still ranked above average for OECD countries, since the early 2000s our scores had been "steadily declining from initially high levels of performance".

New Zealand ranked eighth overall across the three subjects out of 36 OECD countries surveyed. Estonia came in at number one.

Out of the OECD countries, Kiwi students came in seventh in science, eighth in reading and 22nd in maths.

Principals Federation President Whetu Cormick says there is a lot of work to do.

"Everyone needs to sit down and really look and analyse what the report is telling us and what we can do to improve our learning outcomes for our young people," says Cormick.

He says there needs to be more of a focus on Māori and Pasifika students if we want to see a change.

"If we do something differently for them than no doubt in the future the data will improve."

The New Zealand Initiative, a think tank, says the country needs to stop burying its head and confront the decline in performance.

"Since 2006, our 15-year olds' reading scores have dropped by 15 points, science scores by 22 points and maths scores by 28 points," says New Zealand Initiative's Briar Lipson.

"Mindful that thirty PISA score points are roughly equivalent to one years' worth of schooling this means that on average, in maths, 15-year-olds today are almost one school-year behind where they would have been had they been born just over a decade earlier." 

The study also found bullying is a growing concern at New Zealand schools, with the number of 15-year-olds bullied up from the 2015 study.

"I know that teachers everyday and also principals take this issue seriously , but I think we really need to understand from our students - what are they actually concerned about?" says Cormick.

The full report can be seen here.