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Irish teens' maths performance improves dramatically on global league table

The performance of Irish 15-year-olds in science has improved dramatically, according to the latest international student assessment.

Irish teenagers have also bounced back up the global league in reading and maths, recovering from a disappointing showing in the same test in 2009.

The poor 2009 results were put down to a range of factors, including student fatigue at the number of tests they were doing at that particualr time, which was blamed on them not answering all questions.

The findings attracted a lot negative publicity which is  credited with creating a greater awareness of the 2012 test helping to turnaround the outcome.

The OECD PISA (Programme for International Assessment) is a three-yearly comparison of student performance in key subjects across up to 65 countries. Its purpose is to measure how well 15-year-olds are prepared to meet the challenges they face in life, including education.

The results of PISA 2013, published today, are based on tests done in 2012 by more than 510,000 students internationally including about 5,000 in Ireland.

Ireland is now ranked 9th in science out of 34 countries in the OECD - which covers the developed world - and 15th out of all 65 countries.

Science is the subject in which Irish students have shown the most improved performance, putting Ireland significantly above the OECD average, and up five places on the table.

This is attributed to the introduction of science to the primary curriculum in 1999 and changes to the Junior Cert syllabus in 2003.

An unexpected drop in the performance of Irish students in reading and maths in PISA 2009 caused dismay, but the lost ground has been made up.

Ireland is now ranked significantly above the OECD average in maths, placed 13th out of 34 OECD countries and 20th out of 65 countries.

However, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn admitted that a small decline in the average score for maths across the OECD countries between 2009 and 2012  “flattered Ireland”.

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So, while Ireland’s maths results are above the OECD average for the first time, its score has not changed significantly since 2003.

PISA shows that while Irish teenagers  are above average in most maths areas, they continue to have a “particular weakness” in space and shape, which covers algebra, geometry and spatial reasoning.

On the plus side, Ireland has a lower percentage of students performing at the lowest levels in maths, but  there are also fewer high performers.

In reading, Irish students are now ranked 4th out of 34 and Ireland is outperforming counties like New Zealand, Australia, Northern Ireland and the US.  Ireland is performing at a similar level to Finland, regarded as a leader in education, and ahead of all other European countries.

In both  science and reading,  Ireland scores well at all levels, with fewer students performing at the lowest reading  level, but more performing at the highest standards.

The findings also give insights into factors that contribute to better or worse performances by students.

Students who attend fee-paying schools tend to do better, while poorer performance is more likely to be found among student working more than eight hours a week during term time, those who did not attend pre-school and those in schools in disadvantaged areas.

Mr Quinn welcomed the improved scores by Irish students, but said: “We cannot be complacent.  While we are doing well, we are not among the top performers internationally, especially in relation to maths, where our students are scoring just above the OECD average”.students are scoring just above the OECD average”.

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