‘Concern’ at lower maths and literacy rankings

THE SECRETARY general of the Department of Education Brigid McManus said Ireland’s drop in OECD maths and literacy rankings was a “matter of serious concern” but questioned the findings of the international study, an Oireachtas committee heard.

The Oireachtas Committee on Education met department officials yesterday to discuss results of the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa).

It showed a sharp fall in Ireland’s OECD maths and literacy ranking. On reading levels among 15-year-olds, Ireland slipped from fifth place in 2000 to 17th place, while in maths Ireland fell from 16th to 26th.

Ms McManus said the findings were “very disappointing” and the literacy results were a “huge shock”. The findings “have been and continue to be treated as a matter of serious concern by the department”.

However, she said a review of the data had made the department aware of the caution it must treat the results with “because of significant limitations in design and underlying methodology used by Pisa”.

The review was carried out by the Education Research Centre in Drumcondra, Dublin, and Statistics Canada after the preliminary results of the Pisa study were known by the department in July. They concluded that the Pisa techniques have overestimated the size of the decline, she said.

Ms McManus said they cautioned against reading too much into one single set of results and other evidence on literacy standards did not corroborate the Pisa findings.

“Nevertheless the department is of the view that it would be unwise to ignore the possibility that there may have been some decline in actual standards of literacy and numeracy among Irish students.”

Fine Gael education spokesman Fergus O’Dowd TD said he was very unhappy with the response from the department, including the use of language like “unwise”. He described the results as a “shame and disgrace”.

Ms McManus said this was “not at all an attempt to whitewash or disassemble it” and it was a “valid question to ask” was there a problem.

But she added: “Few education systems have ever experienced actual changes in educational standards of the scale reported for Ireland for 2009.”

Labour education spokesman Ruairí Quinn TD asked if it was time to reconsider the time devoted to religion and Irish in order to concentrate on literacy and numeracy.

The Irish Times – Friday, January 14, 2011

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