International studies show changes must be made to improve education outcomes

  • Hekia Parata

Education Minister Hekia Parata says two international research studies on student achievement released tonight confirm that more work must be done to improve our education system.

“While we have a good education system overall there are persistent signs of under-performance. The findings of these studies must serve as a wakeup call.  We cannot take for granted that our overall achievement at the senior end of our system can be maintained if we do not improve the system all the way through.

“Unfortunately these results show that we are either standing still or falling behind in reading, maths and science.  We must pay urgent attention to what these studies tell us and tackle some system-wide challenges.”

The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), was completed between November 2010 and October 2011 for Years 5 and 9 and shows marked drops in maths and science achievement, particularly at middle primary school level, and no improvements in reading literacy.

“While we have some high performing children, we have many children who lack basic skills and knowledge, particularly in mathematics and science, compared to children of a similar age in other countries. That is seriously worrying,’’ says Ms Parata.

“These studies indicate that we need to increase our focus on improving teaching quality and leadership. And, as our own research shows we must give particular attention to transitions – when children move from one level of schooling to the next.

“We must ensure that children develop good reading and writing skills from the moment they start school. Given the critical role this has in starting children on the right path it would suggest that our best and most experienced teachers are needed most at this level.

“In the transitions work that our Education Review Office has done they have also identified how important it is to create a successful transition at Year 9 so that the progress to NCEA2 is much more planned and assured.

“We need good, quality data so we can see how a child’s learning is progressing. We are starting to see the benefits of that this year with the first reporting of National Standards data. The data enables us to support all learners and target those who are falling behind much earlier and give them the help they need. We have a five year plan to improve the quality of that data.

“We are also working with schools to better understand and use their data to change the way that teaching occurs when it is clear that what is being done is not working.

“ERO has also identified the importance of using assessments to get better learning - rather than assessment simply to have assessment. National Standards is built on developing consistency and progression and not on a high stakes national test, as happens in other parts of the world.

“Given the disturbing trend reflected in the PIRLS and TIMMS studies it is important that we get on and embed national standards into routine practice.

“We know that the strength of a parent’s involvement with their child and their school makes a very positive difference.  It also helps to identify those families that may be struggling and to find the assistance needed from other agencies.

“We need to ensure parents are involved in their child’s learning, that they know what questions to ask teachers and how they can best support their child’s learning. 

“We also need Boards of Trustees to ensure that their main focus is on raising student achievement. The changes we are proposing in the Education Amendment Bill will provide more clarity for schools and Boards of Trustees, and ensure children’s needs remain the central focus for our educators.

“We must work with parents, children, teachers, principals, Board of Trustees, the education sector and experts to address the issues raised by this research.  We want all our children to leave school with the skills they need to reach their potential in a modern society.”



The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) involves Year 5 and Year 9 learners and is conducted on a regular 4 year cycle. More than 60 countries participated in TIMSS in 2011.

The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), measures the achievement of Year 5 learners and has been held every 5 years since 2001. Over 50 countries participated in PIRLS. 

Progress in International Reading Literacy Study





Year 5




Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study







Year 5






Year 9












Year 5






Year 9






Please note 500 is the centre point or median


Year 5 Reading PIRLS

1 Hong Kong SAR                   571

2 Russian Federation              568

3 Finland                                 568

4 Singapore                             567

5 Northern Ireland                   558


21 Slovak Republic                 535

22 Bulgaria                              532

23 New Zealand                     531

24 Slovenia                             530

25 Austria                                529


Year 5 Mathematics TIMSS

1 Singapore                             606

2 Korea, Rep. of                      605

3 Hong Kong SAR                   602

4 Chinese Taipei                     591

5 Japan                                   585



29 Malta                                  496

30 Croatia                               490

31 New Zealand                     486

32 Spain                                  482

33 Romania                             482

Year 5 Science TIMSS

1 Korea, Rep. of                      587

2 Singapore                             583

3 Finland                                 570

4 Japan                                   559

5 Russian Federation              552


29 Poland                                505

30 Romania                             505

TIMSS CENREPOINT            500

31 New Zealand                     497

32 Kazakhstan                        495

33 Norway                               494


Year 9 Mathematics TIMSS

1 Korea, Rep. of                      613

2 Singapore                             611

3 Chinese Taipei                     609

4 Hong Kong SAR                   586

5 Japan                                   570


14 Lithuania                            502

TIMSS CENREPOINT            500

15 Italy                                    498

16 New Zealand                     488

17 Kazakhstan                        487

18 Sweden                              484

Year 9 Science TIMSS

1 Singapore                             590

2 Chinese Taipei                     564

3 Korea, Rep. of                      560

4 Japan                                   558

5 Finland                                 552


13 Israel                                  516

14 Lithuania                            514

15 New Zealand                     512


TIMSS CENREPOINT            500