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Australian students go backwards in maths, reading and science


The proportion of Australian 15-year-olds who are reaching international baseline levels in maths, reading and science has fallen significantly over a decade, and federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham says parents need to start doing more to stem the country's declining performance.

Only 79 per cent of year 10 students reached the international baseline level for maths in 2015, compared with 87 per cent of students in 2006, according to a new report released on Sunday by the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY).

About 82 per cent of students reached the benchmark in reading in 2015, down from 86 per cent in 2006. Baseline proficiency in science also fell, with 82 per cent of students reaching the benchmark in 2015, compared with 87 per cent in 2006.

"If there are an increasing number of students not meeting those benchmarks in any subjects, we'll find they're likely to struggle in life, find it hard to get a job and, statistically, they are more likely to get in trouble with the law," Grattan Institute's school education program director Pete Goss said.

Mr Birmingham said that alongside a number of other measures being put in place, families need to join the effort to tackle declining performance.

"Solutions are unlikely to lie in schools alone and require parents to think what more they can do at home to help," Mr Birmingham said.
However, Mr Goss said children whose parents also struggled in school are likely to be the among the lowest-performing students.

"Parents can definitely help with basic literacy and numeracy skills but if we want to break the cycle of disadvantage, it's foolish to say it's parents' responsibility," Mr Goss said.
"The government needs to step up and do more."

Mr Birmingham has previously announced a literacy and numeracy test for initial teacher education students, which began in 2016, and year 1 phonics and numeracy checks to help teachers identify struggling students.

“In addition to record and growing funding we are overhauling the training of teachers, who are the most important in-school influence on student outcomes," Mr Birmingham said.
"I am also urging states to ensure best-practice approaches to early identification of learning problems in our youngest school children."

However, a push to review teacher registration processes that was announced earlier this month has been met with strong opposition from teachers groups and academics, who say it will "downgrade teaching qualifications".
The benchmark used in the ARACY report is a level two in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) tests, including the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), which include levels one to five.

The report found that the decline in baseline achievement in all three areas is even more significant for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, who are now further behind their non-Indigenous peers in maths and science.
Only 50 per cent of Aboriginal students met the baseline in maths, down from 60 per cent in 2009.
In science, 57 per cent of Aboriginal students reached the baseline in 2015, down from 65 per cent in 2009, and 59 per cent of students reached the benchmark in reading, down from 61 per cent in 2009.

The report found that 15.3 per cent of all 15 to 19-year-olds and 24.5 per cent of Aboriginal young people said they are highly concerned about bullying or emotional abuse.

It also found that Australia ranks in the bottom third of OECD countries for preschool attendance, with only 83.3 per cent of all four and five-year-olds not in primary school attending preschool.

Other concerning findings include a fall in the proportion of children who are fully immunised by the age of two, from 92.7 per cent in 2008 to 90.5 per cent by the end of last year.

Australia ranked 33 out of 35 OECD countries for measles immunisation and 31 for whooping cough immunisation in 2015.