Academic performance of Flemish 12-year-olds shows first improvement in years
In a remarkable turnaround after several years of decline, the academic performance of sixth-grade primary school students in Flanders has shown signs of improvement, according to a study by KU Leuven for the Catholic school network in Flanders.
Although pupils have not fully recovered to pre-pandemic levels, they performed better in maths, Dutch and science at the end of the last school year than their counterparts a year earlier.
Despite persistent reports of a decline in the quality of education, the annual assessments carried out by more than 1,000 Catholic schools at the end of the sixth year show a positive trend. This improvement contrasts with the overall trend of declining scores observed since 2019.
"In eight of the nine domains we test, there is an improvement compared to students who were in the sixth grade the previous year"
Professors Kristof De Witte and Letizia Gambi of KU Leuven, who analysed the results, note a cautious reversal of the downward trend: "In eight of the nine domains we test, there is an improvement compared to students who were in the sixth grade the previous year."
Whereas the previous year's results showed a 13-month deficit in reading comprehension, this has now been reduced to eight months, showing a positive shift. However, the improvements are not uniform across all areas, with no notable improvement in listening skills.
Further analysis shows that the earlier decline in the performance of the most able students has been mitigated. Previously, these students needed almost an extra year of schooling to catch up with the proficiency of sixth-graders in Dutch in 2019, but now they appear to have caught up. Even the weakest students are making progress, although they have not yet reached the 2021 proficiency level.
Although students have not fully regained pre-pandemic levels, the research signals a positive turnaround. In particular, the influence of socio-economic status on academic outcomes has diminished, with maternal education level no longer a determining factor in reading comprehension. While having a different home language still has an effect on academic performance, this effect has also diminished over time.
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