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PISA 2018 results confirm steady improvement in Maltese State Schools

The latest PISA results for 2018 issued today by OECD confirm the steady improvement made by Maltese state schools in the three domains assessed by the PISA study: Reading, Mathematics and Science. In fact, the study shows that :

The mean Reading score for State schools has increased in each PISA cycle. This went from 408 in 2009 to 414 in 2015 to 419 in 2018.

The mean Science score for State Schools has increased from 425 in 2009 to 427 in 2015 to 428 in 2018.

In State schools, the mean Mathematics score increased from 430 in 2009 to 443 in 2015 and  443 in 2018

These positive results for State Schools reflects the measures which have been introduced throughout the years which are impacting in improved results in these three domains. These include the development of the National Literacy Agency, the strong focus on science popularisation through several measures in schools, the strong support given for Mathematics in primary schools as well as the substantial investment being made for more resources within schools.  

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PISA 2018 results at a glance

The PISA survey takes place every three years and Malta has participated three times in the 2009, 2015 and 2018 cycles. PISA surveys assess students’ attainment in Reading, Mathematics and Science. In PISA 2018, Reading was the major domain, while Science and Mathematics were the minor domains.

All students attending school in Malta who were born in 2002 participated in PISA 2018. A major change in this assessment was that computers were used instead of booklets.  Seventy countries, including Malta, used a computer-based assessment, while eight countries used paper-based tests.

Attainment in Reading

When comparing EU Member States, Malta scored significantly higher in Reading than Romania, Cyprus and Bulgaria but significantly lower than the other Member States.

In all PISA participating countries, girls scored significantly higher than boys in reading. The mean Reading score of Maltese girls exceeded the mean score of boys by 49 score points and was one of the largest gender gaps across participating countries.

The mean Reading score of Maltese students in the PISA 2018 cycle (448) was 1 point higher than the PISA 2015 cycle (447), and 7 points higher than the PISA 2009 cycle (441).

Since 2009, the mean reading scores of boys attending State and Independent schools increased significantly, however the mean reading scores of boys attending Church schools decreased significantly. In all school types, the mean reading scores of girls varied marginally throughout the last nine years.

Female students scored significantly higher in Reading than boys. The difference in mean reading scores between the two gender groups was 65 points in State schools, 41 points in Church schools and 24 points in Independent schools.

In PISA 2009 the gender gap in Reading was 72 points (406 for boys and 478 for girls), which decreased to 42 points in PISA 2015 (426 for boys and 468 for girls), but increased again to 49 points in PISA 2018 (425 for boys and 474 for girls).  

The mean Reading score for State schools has increased in each PISA cycle. This went from 408 in 2009 to 414 in 2015 to 419 in 2018. In Independent schools, the mean Reading score increased from 499 in 2009 to 514 in 2015 to 516 in 2018. In Church schools, the mean Reading score increased from 485 in 2009 to 492 in 2015 but decreased to 473 in 2018.

Attainment in Science

When comparing EU Member States, Malta scored significantly higher in Science than Cyprus, Romania and Bulgaria and on a par with Greece. Malta however, scored significantly lower in Science than the remaining Member States.

In State schools, the mean Science score increased from 425 in 2009 to 427 in 2015 to 428 in 2018. In Independent schools, the mean Science score increased from 518 in 2009 to 540 in 2015 but decreased to 523 in 2018. In Church schools, the mean Science score increased from 507 in 2009 to 509 in 2015 but decreased to 482 in 2018.

In 50 PISA participating countries, including Malta, girls scored significantly higher than boys in Science. The mean Science score of Maltese girls exceeded the mean score of boys by 21 score points and was one of the largest gender gaps in favour of girls across the countries.

In PISA 2009 the gender gap in Science was 34 points (444 for boys and 478 for girls), which decreased to 10 points in PISA 2015 (460 for boys and 470 for girls), but increased again to 21 points in PISA 2018 (447 for boys and 468 for girls).  

Attainment in Mathematics

When comparing EU Member States, Malta scored significantly higher in Maths than Croatia, Romania, Greece, and Bulgaria but significantly lower than the remaining Member States.

In 12 PISA participating countries, including Malta, girls scored significantly higher than boys in Mathematics. The mean Mathematics score of Maltese girls exceeded the mean score of boys by 13 score points and was one of the largest gender gaps in favour of girls across the countries.

Student attainment in Mathematics differs significantly between school types. Boys and girls attending Church and Independent schools, scored significantly higher in Mathematics, compared to the international average (489); while boys and girls attending State schools scored significantly lower.

The mean Mathematics score of Maltese students in the PISA 2018 cycle (472) was 6 points lower than the PISA 2015 cycle (478), and 9 points higher than the PISA 2009 cycle (463).

In State schools, the mean Mathematics score increased from 430 in 2009 to 443 in 2015 to 443 in 2018.  In Independent schools, the mean Mathematics score increased from 512 in 2009 to 540 in 2015 but decreased to 535 in 2018.  In Church schools, the mean Mathematics score increased from 506 in 2009 to 521 in 2015 but decreased to 496 in 2018.

Since 2009, the mean Mathematics scores of male students attending State schools increased significantly however, the mean Mathematics scores of boys attending Church schools decreased significantly. In all school types, the mean Mathematics scores of girls varied marginally throughout the last nine years.

In PISA 2009 the gender gap in Mathematics was 15 points (455 for boys and 470 for girls), which decreased to 4 points in PISA 2015 (477 for boys and 481 for girls), but increased again to 13 points in PISA 2018 (465 for boys and 478 for girls).

Equity in education

The index that measures the economic, social, cultural status (ESCS) shows that the mean score for Malta (0.06) is significantly higher than the international average (-0.03), indicating a better socio-economic status of Maltese students compared to the average.  

In Malta, the mean reading scores of non-immigrant students (452) was similar to immigrant students (451). This is in contrast to the international trend, where the mean reading score of non-immigrant students (494) is significantly higher than immigrant students (452).

In Reading, Science and Mathematics the percentages of Maltese high achievers with an immigrant background are higher than their counterparts with non-immigrant background. However, the percentages of Maltese low achievers are comparable between the two groups.

The isolation index, which measures streaming and segregation of students by academic performance, decreased from 0.3 in 2009 to 0.11 in 2018, indicating that students of varying abilities were more likely to attend the same school. Our education system has become more comprehensive, focussing less on examination-based assessment.

The isolation index of socio-economically advantaged students (0.15) was higher than the isolation index of socio-economically disadvantaged students (0.12). This indicates that there are higher concentrations of socio-economically advantaged students in some schools (mainly independent schools) than socio-economically disadvantaged students.

The social diversity index measures the social segregation within a country. Malta’s social diversity index (0.09) was significantly lower than the OECD average (0.14) and was amongst the lowest in the 78 countries participating in PISA 2018, indicating lower levels of social segregation in Maltese schools.

The shortage index of educational staff (-0.062) in Maltese schools is significantly lower than 0, indicating that staff shortages hinder to a lesser extent the school’s capacity to provide instruction, compared to the average.

The percentage of fully certified Maltese teachers in States schools (93.0%) exceeded those in Church schools (88.1%) and Independent schools (80.2%).  There are more fully certified teachers in disadvantaged Maltese schools (87.7%) than in advantaged schools (82.5%).

Teachers’ Enthusiasm, Support and Behaviour

The majority of Maltese students reported that their teachers were enthusiastic during lessons and enjoyed teaching. 78.8% of students agreed that teachers like teaching them; 83.3% agreed that teachers like to deal with the topic of the lesson; 77.8% of students agreed that the teachers showed enjoyment in teaching, and 68.0% of students agreed that the teacher’s enthusiasm inspired them

The index that measures teacher enthusiasm shows that Malta’s mean score (0.22) is significantly higher than the OECD average (0), indicating that Maltese students perceive their teachers as enthusiastic and enjoy teaching.

The majority of Maltese students reported that they were supported by their teachers in most or all lessons. 81.2% of students agreed that teachers show interest in every student’s learning; 80.5% agreed that teachers give extra help when student needs it; 84.8% of students agreed that the teachers help students with their learning, and 80.3% of students agreed that the teachers continue teaching until the students understand. 

The index that measures teacher support shows that Malta’s mean score (0.34) is significantly higher than the OECD average (0), indicating that Maltese students receive support frequently from teachers during lessons.