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The reading literacy of Australian 15-year-old students has fallen sharply over the past decade, results from the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) reveal. The Australian national report shows Australia’s results have also slipped in mathematics but held ground in science.

PISA measures how well 15-year-olds from across the globe are prepared to use their knowledge and skills in reading, mathematics and science to meet real-life challenges near the end of compulsory schooling. Sixty-five OECD and partner countries took part in PISA 2009, including a nationally representative sample of around 14,000 Australian students from 353 schools. Australia has now participated in four cycles of PISA since its inception in 2000.

Australian students are still performing well above the OECD average but their results in reading literacy and mathematical literacy have declined significantly over recent years. Australian students scored an average of 515 points on the 2009 reading assessments, compared to the OECD average of 493 points. Australia’s overall performance declined by 13 score points from 2000 to 2009. The decline is primarily among higher achieving students and is more evident in some states than others.

In mathematics Australian students achieved an average score of 514 points, significantly higher than the OECD average of 496. The result was similar to that achieved in 2006 but down on the 2003 result.  The performance of Australian students in scientific literacy remained unchanged from PISA 2006 to PISA 2009 with an average score of 527 points.

Very significant gaps in achievement remain between Australian students by gender, Indigenous status, location and wealth. In some cases these are equivalent to several years of schooling.

The Australian report was written by Sue Thomson, Lisa De Bortoli, Marina Nicholas, Kylie Hillman and Sarah Buckley.

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