The latest international studies show New Zealand's education system has persistent signs of under-performance, Education Minister Hekia Parata says.
The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study and the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, completed between November 2010 and October 2011 for years 5 and 9, show New Zealand failed to rank higher than 15th out of more than 60 countries.
There were marked drops in maths and science achievement, particularly at middle primary school level. And there were no improvements in reading literacy.
Ms Parata said the results, published last night, served as a wake-up call. ''While we have a good education system overall, there are persistent signs of under-performance.''
Pupils were either standing still or falling behind in reading, maths and science, and it was ''seriously worrying''.
She wanted improved teaching quality and leadership, and more attention paid to a child's transition from one level of schooling to the next. And she said the studies confirmed that national standards should be embedded into routine practise.
Education researcher Cathy Wylie, who recently published her book Vital Connections, was not surprised to see New Zealand's performance had dropped.
She believed a crucial element was the fact that schools were separate entities and there were few channels to share best teaching practise and ideas.
''Without that, it will be very difficult to see significant shifts in our performance in these kinds of international studies.
''We are running a system where we are expecting individual schools to find the answers themselves. We are making it really hard on ourselves.''
Labour party education spokesman Chris Hipkins said the results were a worrying trend, especially because science and maths were critical to the future success of New Zealand's economy.
''The last such reports at the end of 2008 showed a surprising dip in results for science. But rather than sit up and take notice, the National-led Government pulled funding for science advisers in primary schools.''
New Zealand's world-class education system had drifted backwards, he said.
- The Dominion Post
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