Irish students among top performers in worldwide tests

Irish students have been ranked among the brightest in the world, according to new figures from the OECD.

Irish teenagers performed significantly better in tests than many of their international counterparts in maths, reading and science.

Last year’s tests, conducted in over 60 countries, show that 2009 results which caused alarm bells over an apparent slump in basic reading and numeracy standards may have been an unusual anomaly.

The latest data based on testing of 5,000 15-year-olds at 182 schools reveals that scores have returned to previous patterns, although our significantly above-average maths scores were more attributable to the OECD norm slipping slightly.

Other significant trends to emerge from Irish results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2012, conducted here by the Educational Research Centre at St Patrick’s College in Dublin, are that:

* Ireland ranks in the top 10 among 34 OECD countries for reading (fourth) and science (seventh)

* Out of 65 countries tested, our 15-year olds are seventh in reading, 15th in science and 20th at maths

* Irish students rank less well when asked to display their reading and maths skills online, but still score significantly better on average at digital reading than teens across the OECD.

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn and senior officials in his department welcomed the return to previous scoring patterns in the PISA tests carried out every three years since 2000.

In science, a steady growth since 2006 has been attributed to the introduction of science to primary schools in 1999 and the revised junior cycle science syllabus in place for the last decade.

However, Minister Quinn warned against complacency and said it will take some time for the impact of initiatives like Project Maths at second level and the national literacy and numeracy strategy to become evident.

He said the figures are a tribute to teachers.

“To have a lower cohort of weak students than the OECD average is a tribute to teachers who are going that extra mile with people who might otherwise not be as bright,” he said.

“I think it’s a fantastic tribute to what I’ve seen on the ground and this is the dedication of Irish teachers and their real care for students.”

Schools chief inspector Harold Hislop said that Ireland is only above-average at maths because that average has fallen.

However, he said it is a sign that, with the curriculum reforms already underway and those planned at junior cycle, there is no reason Ireland can not be among the top-performing countries in maths.

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland has described the findings as an endorsement of the high quality work of Irish teachers and students despite what the union describes as hugely damaging cuts to the education sector.

By Niall Murray, Irish Examiner Education Correspondent

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