Dutch primary school students perform well but rarely excel

Dutch primary school students perform well but rarely excel at reading, arithmetic, and science, according to the newly released Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS-2011) and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS-2011).

The primary school students examined were aged 9 to 10. In 2011, test scores for Dutch students in this age range positioned the Netherlands as one of the better performing countries for reading, arithmetic, and science education.

While differences in scores between the Netherlands and neighbouring countries are mostly small, the Netherlands does not perform particularly well compared to the participating Asian countries (such as Singapore).

Furthermore, the Netherlands has seen its rankings in reading, arithmetic, and science drop compared to the first PIRLS measurement in 2001 and the first TIMSS measurement back in 1995.

While this can be partly attributed to high-performing countries like Finland starting to participate in PIRLS and TIMSS later than the Netherlands, according to the authors it is also because the level of education in the Netherlands has decreased at the same time that it has increased in many other countries.

The report's authors note that a defining and unique characteristic of education in the Netherlands is the relatively small difference in performance between the weakest and strongest pupils.

For arithmetic and science, 99% of students reach at least the lowest knowledge and skill levels distinguished by TIMSS, while the lowest reading skill level was achieved by all 9 to 10-year-old pupils tested.

However, at the same time there are relatively few excellent students in the Netherlands. Three to seven percent of Dutch students tested achieved the highest level for the different test areas, far less than in countries that perform well.

According to the authors, this indicates that the Dutch education system is good at making sure that weak students at least reach the basic level, but apparently not as good at helping talented pupils excel.

The PIRLS and TIMSS surveys are organised by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement and are carried out in the Netherlands on behalf of the Dutch Programme Council for Educational Research (PROO), part of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO).

These studies are performed in over 45 different countries among pupils aged 9 to 10. These most recent data are from the spring of 2011, when more than 7.000 Dutch pupils in this age group participated in PIRLS or TIMSS.

Carly Blair


Carly Blair



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