Global results boost tests for the brightest

Hong Kong took the top spot in the world-class tests, but the UK put up a respectable show, reports Julie Henry

HIGH-FLYING pupils from England and the United States outperformed Australian children in world-class tests. Youngsters from Hong Kong were the top scorers.

Tthe computer and pen-and-paper exams in maths and problem-solving launched by the Government's exam watchdog are aimed at the brightest 10 per cent. As The TES revealed last week, more than 4,400 nine and 13-year-olds took the tests between November and July. Ten countries have now signed up.

An initial analysis of the first three test sittings, covering the first four countries to sign up, shows that 57 per cent of children achieved a pass, 30 per cent a merit and 6 per cent were awarded a distinction.

There was some variation in the achievement across the countries. Scores for English and American children were similar. Both outperformed children from Australia.

Pupils from Hong Kong achieved nearly 100 per cent on both maths and problem-solving. However, the sample size of 56 nine and 13-year-olds was very small. The analysis also revealed that pupils found the maths paper easier than problem-solving. A higher percentage of younger children than teenagers passed the tests.

Marginally more boys than girls signed up. World-class test pilots, involving 2,000 children and conducted before the tests went live, showed that boys outperformed girls at the upper end of the attainment range. A Qualifications and Curriculum Authority spokesman stressed that the tests were still being developed.

Country entries varied in size and the tests were self-selective. As a result, it was difficult to draw any definite conclusions.

The spokesman said: "As the database of international performance develops we could expect to begin to say more about individual and group performances and how they compare.

"In time we are hoping that results from different countries will help us to identify national traits, for instance, what types of problems different countries are good at, the different strategies employed by children in solving problems, and any links between these strategies, teaching and learning.

"Eventually we should be able to gain an international understanding of children's mathematical and problem-solving skills."

Britain improved its position in last year's international education league tables, compiled by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The UK came fourth in science, seventh in reading and eighth in maths, outperforming traditional competitors such as Germany, Italy, France and the US. Only South Korea and Finland ranked higher on all subjects.

More than a quarter of a million 15-year-olds from 32 countries were tested.

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