Why are Lithuanian 10th-graders’ test scores plummeting and what can be done about it?

DELFI / Mindaugas Ažušilis

Every year, the National Exam Centre (NEC) tests Lithuanian 10th-graders’ knowledge in a test called the fundamental education achievement assessment, or PUPP. The test is mandatory for all who want to earn a basic education, so it is held by nearly all 10th-graders in Lithuania. This year’s results revealed national education achievement was in a poor state in Lithuania.

According to the NEC, 23.3% of 10th-graders received at least one unsatisfactory mark on their PUPP exam. In some municipalities, a third of the students failed to pass the PUPP’s math component.

Both national pupil achievement studies and standardised tests like the PUPP show that 15-20% of schoolchildren in Lithuania are under-performing. What does this mean?

Almost a fifth of 10th-graders in Lithuania lack basic knowledge and skills – they fail to correctly understand a text they’ve read or to complete elementary calculations. Many under-achieving schoolchildren not only fail to complete basic reading or calculation tasks, they also lack basic studying and work skills.

Even the averages are bad

The statistics of individual schools are no better. There are many in which the average score of all students that completed the PUPP exam failed to reach the satisfactory average.

Saulė Vingelienė, director of the NEC, told Delfi that the situation has remained the same over the past four years.

“The most popular math score on the PUPP is a four in a 10-point system, and that’s how it’s been for the last four years,” she said.

“The average score for the native Lithuanian language PUPP is six or seven out of ten. This part of the PUPP has a written and spoken component. The public speaking section is like a lifesaver for under-achieving students because it isn’t hard to get a lot of points here. This influences the final Lithuanian language PUPP score, so this is often higher than the math score for under-achieving pupils,” said Vingelienė.

No consequences for low performance

Though schoolchildren’s scores are plummeting, there are no consequences for especially low performance on a PUPP exam.

“Since 2012, participating in the Lithuanian language and math components of the PUPP has been mandatory for schoolchildren in an attempt to ensure a basic education, but there are no consequences if a pupil fails to collect enough points for a satisfactory answer on a particular question. Regardless of the pupil’s PUPP grade, they will be able to continue their education and receive a secondary education,” Vingelienė said.

In some schools, children do not take the test seriously, arriving to receive a score of one on the test and leaving.

“The lowest PUPP score is a one, but test-takers receive that score for coming to the test location and handing in an empty test,” explained Vingelienė.

This also creates a problem when analyzing students’ performance, because students that received low scores because they had no motivation to take the test cannot be compared to those that failed to complete the test’s simplest assignments.

“The situation is improving very slowly. For example, there are large gaps between schools and even municipalities in less socially successful regions, as well as gaps between girls’ and boys’ performances in Lithuanian in the PUPP,” said Vingelienė.

What leads to poor results?

Though Vingelienė said no studies had been done to ascertain what was causing the poor scores among students, she said that there were clear differences between city and village students.

“This gap can be seen in almost all national studies of schoolchildren’s performance, regardless of their grades and the subjects being studied. Village children’s PUPP scores are lower than those of city children. In cities, we should distinguish five of the largest cities whose results are higher than those of the rest,” said Vingelienė.

“There was also a significant statistical difference between PUPP scores at high schools and other types of schools. Scores at high schools were much higher than scores at primary, secondary or trade schools. For example, barely one or two students will have received PUPP scores of 9 or 10 at a given trade school.

“Another significant difference was between girls’ and boys’ achievements. In both math and Lithuanian, girls’ achievements on the PUPP were higher than boys’. Of course, this could also be influenced by the fact that there are more girls in high schools than boys,” explained Vingelienė.

Both parents and schools fail to motivate some children

“Parents often have less and less time to help and support their children. Many parents work abroad. Not all of them are sufficiently educated to help their children. Not all families have enough money to create a good learning environment, and so forth. Some parents cannot convince their children that work and perseverance can work wonders.

“Schoolchildren’s surveys show that many pupils in difficult social environments do not believe that they can succeed, so they give up and learn poorly,” she said.

“The school’s environment is also important, the local culture, the community’s belief (or lack thereof) in education, academic achievement, and the importance of values. In this sense, city schools often have a much easier job to do,” said Vingelienė.

What can be done?

Modern society demands higher and higher levels of education, and according to Vingelienė, there are different ways to approach this problem.

“The government must clearly decide whether pupils’ achievements are a serious priority. The public must be presented with very clear and financially grounded arguments for how much must be invested to increase schoolchildren’s achievements and what value is generated by higher educational achievements. On the student’s level, there must be systemic work, their achievements must constantly be monitored, and there must be effective feedback for the pupils as well as their parents and their schools,” Vingelienė offered.

According to Vingelienė, the example of more well-developed countries show that the education needs of pupils from more difficult social environments cannot be ignored.

She pointed to after-school programs in some countries as a possible solution, saying “these schools are meant to give students help that their families cannot give them. Students with lower achievements have always existed and they always will, at all educational levels.

“The more important question is what will be done to reduce the number that there are and how we will work with those who receive the lowest PUPP scores. What sort of feedback or information will their parents receive about their children’s education results?” Vingelienė said.

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