Ireland’s literacy and numeracy ranking falls

SUCCESS in tackling early school-leaving may be a factor in Ireland’s recent drop in average reading and maths standards.

In a decade from the late 1990s to the late 2000s, the proportion of students who dropped out of school before Leaving Certificate fell from 23% to less than 19%. The most recent statistics, published in yesterday’s Irish Examiner, show that the recession has also kept more students in school.

The number of first years in 2004 who finished school reached a record high of 85.5%, and above-average falls in dropout rates were seen in the most disadvantaged schools.

But Ireland’s global ranking in literacy and numeracy — based on tests between 2000 and 2009 — fell from 15th to 25th in maths and from fifth to 17th in reading. The scores are measured among 15-year-olds in about 30 developed countries as part of the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) tests run every three years by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

According to analysis of the most recent PISA reading and maths scores of Irish 15-year-olds published last December, a factor in dropping standards may be the higher retention of students in recent years. The proportion of students who had left the 144 schools where testing took place in the six months before the testing in spring 2009 was 1.5%. This is a fall from a high of 2.3% in 2003 and from 2.1% of students eligible to take the 2000 PISA tests, or a proportional drop of more than 25% in dropout rates among 15-year-olds in those schools since 2000.

The Educational Research Centre at Dublin’s St Patrick’s College and Statistics Canada highlighted this as one of a number of potential factors in the significant changes in Ireland’s standards, along with an increase in the number of students whose first language was not English over the past decade, and also more students with special educational needs attending mainstream schools.

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn has made tackling literacy and numeracy at primary and second-level one of his key priorities and a national strategy on the issue is being finalised. However, schools and teachers have warned that cuts to resources helping them support children with special needs, Traveller pupils and those who are disadvantaged will only help to further bring down standards, as they impact on all children in the classroom.

A key focus of the literacy and numeracy strategy will be on additional teacher training, both at pre-service level and in continuing professional development.


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