PIRLS Results: How Well Australia Has Performed in the Latest Literacy Assessment?

The PIRLS assessment or the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, which was released recently in the first week of December, revealed an analytical overview of the literary skills of 580,000 year 4 students in 50 different countries. Australia secured the 21st rank in the assessment, surpassing several significant contenders like Portugal, Spain and New Zealand in the list. Australia had made a notable improvement in the rankings since the last time (2011) when it came 27th in the list of 45 countries.

Literacy Assessment

The objective of this particular assessment is to understand and improve the literacy score for each country by focusing on the broad cross-section of students from those particular countries. In the 2011 study, Australia received 527 points, while this time it was awarded 544 points (a significant 17 point jump). Even though it outranked 24 countries on the list, it still lagged considerably behind 13 other countries including Russia, England and Singapore.

Notably, each state and territory in Australia made an improvement since the last time, except for the ACT. The results for ACT went backwards by 4% since the last time (2011). The results in Western Australia, however, improved by 10%, while Victoria scored the highest in the assessment. Unfortunately, around 7% students in year 4 failed to reach the “low benchmark”, which remains the same as 2011.

Also, some of the voids in demographic attainment, which were there in 2011 assessment, persisted this time as well. The literacy results for indigenous students seemed far worse than the non-indigenous students. Where 83% of non-indigenous students reached the intermediate literacy benchmark in the assessment, only 57% of indigenous students were able to do the same. Furthermore, 69% of students in more disadvantaged schools were performing at the level, which the percentage was much higher (80%) in other schools.

According to a report published in “The Guardian”, the Australian Council of Education Research deputy chief executive, Sue Thompson stated that the results inferred positive changes in average reading performance in the country, while they also highlighted the particular groups of students who struggle to make out reading comprehension. She also added that the development in the literacy achievement of year 4 Australian students in PIRLS is broadly consistent with the note that year 3 reading levels in Naplan have been getting better in a national scale since 2008.

According to Ms Thompson’s statement, the priority for the policymakers and educators in the country is to concentrate on addressing the learning needs of the particular groups of students who were highlighted poorly in the report. Just like PIRLS 2011, 6% of the students couldn’t reach the low benchmark in PIRLS 2016. Also, the significant achievement gaps by gender, Indigenous status, school location and socioeconomic background persist.

The federal education minister, Simon Birmingham reportedly stated that the new PIRLS results show that reading of around one-fifth of the year 4 students was below the national proficient standard. The results were an encouraging assessment, but the educators and the policymakers in Australia need to focus on the matter and do the needful to further boost the student outcomes.

Minister Birmingham also added that there was no “silver bullet” to boost the results. However, the students were highly influenced by the factors like family background, societies and the education systems. While the policymakers and educators are investing record and growing the sums, dispensed according to the requirement, how the funding is utilized would be a key factor in driving the results in the future.

 In her statement, Ms Thompson exclaimed that the PIRLS assessment had highlighted some significant facts. Students, who went to the schools where fewer than 25% of their peers already had some literacy skills when they started school, achieved considerably lower scores on an average. On the other hand, students who attended the schools where most of their peers begin with some literary skills performed better in the latest assessment.

Thompson also added that the schooling and learning should not be compared with race, but even if it were done, the students who had low literacy skills or no literacy skills at all while starting the school would have been starting the race 50 metres behind the ones who had literacy skills. Even though the students with poor literacy skills try hard to reduce the gap, it has been learned from the other studies that the gap does not really close. The situation for the students with poor literacy skills will remain poor if the educators and the policymakers don’t do something.

According to the report, she also stated that they need to provide the schools with proper resources to facilitate the language development and growth of students who begin their schooling with few literacy skills in order to eliminate the disparity that has been created among the students. It is high time the students with fewer literacy skills develop their skills and catch up rest of their peers eventually.

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