Irish Journal of Education, Vol. 37, 2006


Gerry Shiel, Nick Sofroniou, and Judith Cosgrove
Educational Research Centre, St Patrick’s College, Dublin

In PISA 2003, 15-year olds in Ireland achieved a mean score on the major assessment domain, mathematics, that is not significantly different from the OECD country average. Irish mean scores on two minor domains, reading literacy and science, are significantly higher than the OECD country average scores, while performance on a third, cross-curricular problem solving, is not significantly different. Several reasons for the relatively poor performance of students in Ireland on the mathematics scale are considered, including differential performance on the mathematics subdomains, poor performance among higher-achieving students, and differences between the Junior Certificate mathematics examination and PISA mathematics in terms of the contexts in which PISA items were embedded, and the content they tapped. School and student variables associated with achievement on PISA mathematics are presented descriptively, and in the context of a multi-level model of achievement. The model, which explained 79% of between-school variance, and 30% of within-school variance, summarizes the contributions of school socioeconomic status, school disciplinary climate in mathematics lessons, student attendance at school, number of books in the home, home educational resources, and gender.


Elizabeth Oldham
School of Education, Trinity College, Dublin

The performance of Irish students on the mathematics assessment of PISA 2003 is considered from the standpoints of the Irish mathematics curriculum and current issues in mathematics education. An examination of contrasting approaches to mathematics education is followed by a description of the historical roots of the Irish mathematics curriculum and some perceived current problems in mathematics achievement. This sets the context for a consideration of the overall PISA results and results on the four mathematics literacy subscales (Space & Shape, Change & Relationships, Quantity, and Uncertainty). Questions are raised regarding the direction in which elements of the Irish curriculum, in particular, approaches to teaching, learning and assessment, might evolve.


Sean Close
Education Department, St Patrick’s College, Dublin

The results of an analysis of the intended, implemented, and achieved Irish junior cycle mathematics curriculum using the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) mathematics framework, assessment instruments, and results, as benchmarks are reported. First, the PISA mathematics framework, its theoretical roots, development, and structure, are described. The extent to which the intended junior cycle mathematics curriculum measures up to the PISA framework on a number of key aspects (including goals, principles, syllabuses) is considered. Substantial differences in a number of these aspects emerge. The way in which the mathematics curriculum is implemented in Irish schools was judged to be at variance in many ways with methods that are implied by the PISA framework. In considering the achieved curriculum, Junior Certificate examination (JCE) papers were evaluated with reference to the PISA assessment framework. Examination papers were found to differ from PISA, and by examination level, in the percentage of items assessing overarching ideas and competency clusters and in presenting items in context. Correlations between performance on the JCE and PISA were high, but not as high as between performance on PISA tests of mathematics, reading, and science.


Gerry Shiel
Educational Research Centre, St Patrick’s College, Dublin

The performance of 15-year olds in Ireland on reading literacy ranked in the top quarter of OECD countries in PISA in 2000 and 2003. In 2000, just over 1 in 10 students (11.0%) scored at or below the lowest proficiency level (Level 1), and just over 4 in 10 (41.3%) at the two highest levels (Levels 4 and 5). In 2003, the same percentage scored at Level 1 or below, while the percentage scoring at Levels 4 and 5 had decreased to 35.5. Ireland was one of three OECD countries in which there was a significant decline in mean achievement since 2000. Students scoring at the 75th, 90th, and 95th percentile ranks also performed significantly less well in 2003. Significant performance differences in favour of female students in 2000 and 2003 are interpreted with reference to differential performance on text type and process subscales. Gender effects are also examined in three multi-level models of reading literacy which provide rather different results. In 2000, engagement of students in Ireland in leisure reading was fourth lowest among OECD countries. In 2003, one-fifth of students reported never reading non-fiction texts at school, and 70% said that they never read electronic texts.


Eemer Eivers
Educational Research Centre, St Patrick’s College, Dublin
Declan Kennedy
Education Department, University College, Cork

Aspects of the performance of Irish 15-year olds on a test of scientific literacy in the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) are described. The conceptualization of scientific literacy is discussed and related to how it was assessed in PISA 2003. The performance of Irish students, which was significantly above the OECD average, is described, and related to the performance of Irish students in the 2000 cycle of PISA. In describing students’ performance, the lack of significant gender differences and the significant differences in relation to socioeconomic status, school sector, and student uptake of science are considered.