Not a g'day

It seems the Outback isn't the only barren locale down under. Test scores, too, have found the Australian environment arid. Faced with an achievement gap of their own--between indigenous and non indigenous students (i.e., aborigines and later immigrants)--the Aussies sought to bring their lagging performers up to par. This went reasonably well. Between 2000 and 2006, Australia managed to narrow that gap substantially according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. But something else happened during those same six years: an overall decline in scores. In 2000, 17.6 percent of Aussie students performed at the top level on the PISA literacy test. By 2006, that had dropped to 8.6 percent. TIMSS results are even more troubling. Whereas Singapore has 44 percent of its students in the top performance level, Australia clocked in at 7 percent. Critics, including the estimable Jennifer Buckingham at Sydney's well-regarded Centre for Independent Studies, now worry that this recent drive for an adequate education may have sacrificed an excellent education in the process. So how do we help the students that need it most and encourage high-achievers to soar too? A timely and important question, particularly as Australia re-engineers its approach to primary-secondary schooling.

"Brightest and Best Miss Out," Jennifer Buckingham, The Australian, November 6, 2008