Dropping Standards in New Zealand

In 1995 New Zealand students finished 18th out of 24 countries on an international survey, Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). There was considerable public concern so the Government created a taskforce to address the problem. In 2001, the Ministry introduced the Numeracy Development Project, which was supposed to lift student performance. Instead, the new teaching methods appear to have "confused teachers, children and parents by presenting multiple alternative problem-solving strategies but neglecting basic knowledge" and over the next few years New Zealand's rating dropped even further.

In December 2012, the latest TIMSS survey found New Zealand 9-year-olds ranked 34th out of 53 countries -- and were bottom equal among developed nations. Almost half could not add 218 and 191 compared to 73% internationally. Ministry of Education figures show the number of 12-year-olds who were able to answer simple multiplication questions correctly dropped from "47% in 2001 -- the year new maths teaching methods were introduced -- to 37% in 2009". The problem flows on to high schools, where "there are still students who have difficulty with the very basics such as knowledge about whole numbers and decimals".

Sir Vaughan Jones, New Zealand's foremost mathematician, is concerned about the way maths is now taught in New Zealand arguing that children need to learn how to multiply and add and really understand those processes before moving on. Jones said children "need to know basic arithmetic before they try to start problem solving".
In December 2012 a broader ranking process put New Zealand eighth out of 40 countries -- seemingly giving the country one of the top education systems in the world. This ranking came from The Learning Curve global education report, published by education firm Pearson. The report assesses performance rates of pupils in reading, writing and maths and is based on data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. However, the validity of Pearsons' testing process for students has been questioned following the discovery of numerous errors in its tests and controversy regarding a question about a talking pineapple.

On a more general note, the Pearson report said the quality of teaching was key factor in a successful education system but also highlighted the importance of an underlying culture focussed on children's learning. The report noted that Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore, which were all ahead of New Zealand, had societies "where education and learning was of the greatest importance and where parents were very much involved with their children's education".

Māori & Pacific Island standards
According to Education Minister Hekia Parata, New Zealand needs to raise the academic achievement of its Māori and Pacific Island students to match those of Pākehā students. In 2013, she said that the PISA international standard showed Pākehā were ranked second in the world, Māori were 34th equal and Pacific students were ranked 44th.