Irish students remain among the best readers in the developed world, an assessment of almost 600,000 students has found.
However, “a challenge remains” in supporting students to achieve the highest scores in maths and science, with relative improvements to be made in both subjects.
Meanwhile, more than one in five Irish students report always feeling under pressure to do well in exams, while one in ten say they feel physically sick thinking about, or sitting, exams.
The findings are contained in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests, published this morning.
The tests, which measures how well 15-year-old students are performing in reading, maths, and science, are conducted every three years.
Carried out in 157 Irish schools, almost 5,600 students sat this round of computer-based assessments in March 2018.
PISA 2018 found that Irish students performed above the OECD average in reading, maths, and science. Reading literacy in Ireland continues to be amongst the highest in the OECD and EU countries.
Ranked fourth in reading out of 36 OECD countries, and third in the EU, Ireland also has the second-lowest percentage of students receiving low reading literacy scores.
Students’ scores in maths ranked Ireland sixteenth out of 37 OECD countries, and there was a smaller percentage of students achieving the lowest scores here when compared to the OECD average.
However, the percentage of students receiving high scores in maths is significantly lower than the OECD average; 8.2% of Irish students performed at the top levels, compared to the OECD average of 10.9%.
In science, 5.8% of students performed at the top level in science, in line with the OECD average.
However, Ireland’s mean score in the subject is significantly higher than the OECD average.
There was also a “large and significant” decline in students’ science scores between 2012 and 2018.
This coincided with the introduction of computer-based testing and the introduction of new interactive items, according to Gerry Shiel of the Educational Research Centre.
The gender gap between male and female students in schools here narrowed in maths and science, PISA 2018 also found.
With more than half of Irish students never sitting a computer-based assessment before PISA 2018, students also received a “significantly and substantially” lower score on the use of subject-related digital technology in class.
Principals surveyed identified access to tech support, a lack of professional resources for teachers, and skill level as challenges to the successful integration of digital tech in the classroom.
More than a fifth (22.6%) of participating students said they always feel under pressure from teachers to do well in exams, a national PISA survey found.
Students who reported never feeling under pressure scored significantly lower in reading literacy compared to those who said they did.
Almost 11% of students reported feeling physically sick thinking about exams.
More than 60% of students in Ireland reported that they were satisfied with their lives, a significantly lower percentage than the overall score across the OECD countries.
Ireland’s high standard in reading is an “envious position to be in,” according to Joe McHugh, Minister for Education.
“I am confident that the changes which the Junior Cycle is bringing will help the development of our students’ critical thinking.”
If positive trends are to continue, higher investment in primary education is necessary, according to the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation.
It’s no coincidence that primary school class sizes are much lower in the two European countries that fare better than Ireland in the reading tests,” said John Boyne, INTO general secretary.
“Lowering class sizes, particularly for our most disadvantaged pupils, will ensure pupils can achieve their fullest potential in our schools.”