John Cresswell and Cathy Underwood examine the effect of geographical location on the performance of students from schools from all parts of Australia who participated in the OECD/Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA 2000). Students in remote areas were not achieving at the same level as their city counterparts. Results for Australian schools located in major cities and inner regional areas were above the OECD average in reading literacy. Outer regional areas and remote and very remote areas were at or below the OECD average.
Levels of proficiency were described, with Level 1 being the most basic and Level 5 the most complex. It was found that 27 per cent of students from remote areas were achieving at the two lowest levels, compared to 12 per cent of students from major cities. At the other end of the scale, 18 per cent of remote students achieved at the two highest levels, compared to 46 per cent of the city students.
The most important factor positively associated with success in reading literacy was students' engagement with reading. This was measured by asking students about their reading habits including how often they read, what material they prefer reading and their interest in reading. Students from remote areas scored lower on this factor than students from city areas.
Although the pattern of use of school libraries was similar in all areas, students from remote locations did not have access to cultural activities such as live theatre. Cultural activities have been found to be positively correlated with performance in reading.
The study also found that females outscored males in reading literacy in all locations; the level of parent education attained was associated with higher student performance in all locations; students in remote areas have access to well-qualified teachers, although they reported the highest level of teacher shortage; and schools in remote areas tended to have a lower level of resources.
After a number of factors such as engagement with reading, gender and home background were taken into account, the effect of location was much less significant.