Australian students have plummeted in the latest international maths and science rankings, with countries such as Kazakhstan, Cyprus and Slovenia leapfrogging us over the past four years.
The latest Trends in International Mathematics and Science study, released on Tuesday, shows Australia dropping from 18th to 28th out of 49 countries in year 4 mathematics.
Australia fell from 12th to 17th in year 8 maths and from 12th to 17th in year 8 science while remaining steady at 25th place in year 4 science.
Education Minister Simon Birmingham said the disappointing results would form a key part of discussions with the states and territories about school funding for 2018 onwards.
The 630,000-strong study as been conducted every four years since 1995.
Sue Thomson, director of educational monitoring and research at the Australian Council for Education Research, said the results were a "wake-up call" and that we are clearly "slipping backwards".
"Australia has remained in the middle of the pack in the past 20 years when other countries are improving," Dr Thomson said. "Not only that, but a substantial proportion of our students are below the Australian proficient standard, with roughly half of students in remote areas at or below that level.
"Clearly, we have a problem."
Dr Thomson said the results were particularly concerning because an increasing number of jobs require science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills.
While Australia's results have flat-lined since 2007, high-performing countries such as Singapore and South Korea continue to pull ahead. Meanwhile countries such as Canada and England have improved their results and now outperform Australia.
Kazakhstan, which has a GDP per capita of $US10,546 ($A14,100) compared to Australia's $US54,718 ($A73,174), placed significantly below Australia in maths and science in 2011 but now outperforms us.
Our maths and science problem
International comparison of year 4 and 8 students
|Year 4 maths ranking||Year 8 Maths ranking||Year 4 science ranking||Year 8 science ranking|
|1 - Singapore||1 - Singapore||1 - Singapore||1 - Singapore|
|2 - Hong Kong||2 - Korea||2 - Korea||2 - Japan|
|3 - Korea||3 - Chinese Taipei||3 - Japan||3 - Chinese Taipei|
|4 - Chinese Taipei||4 - Hong Kong||4 - Russian Federation||4 - Korea|
|5 -Japan||5 - Japan||5 - Hong Kong||5 - Slovenia|
|6 - Northern Ireland||6 - Russian Federation||6 - Chinese Taipei||6 - Hong Kong|
|7 - Russian Federation||7 - Kazakhstan||7 - Finland||7 - Russian Federation|
|8 - Norway||8 - Canada||8 - Kazakhstan||8 - England|
|9 - Ireland||9 - Ireland||9 - Poland||9 - Kazakhstan|
|10 - England||10 - United States||10 - United States||10 - Ireland|
|11 - Belgium (Flemish)||11 - England||11 - Slovenia||11 - United States|
|12 - Kazakhstan||12 - Slovenia||12 - Hungary||12 - Hungary|
|13 - Portugal||13 - Hungary||13 - Sweden||13 - Canada|
|14 - United States||14 - Norway||14 - Norway||14 - Sweden|
|15 - Denmark||15 - Lithuania||15 - England||15 - Lithuania|
|16 - Lithuania||16 - Israel||16 - Bulgaria||16 - New Zealand|
|17 - Finland||17 - Australia||17 - Czech Republic||17 - Australia|
|18 - Poland||18 - Croatia|
|19 - Netherlands||19 - Singapore|
|20 - Hungary||20 - Korea|
|21 - Czech Republic||21 - Japan|
|22 - Bulgaria||22 - Ireland|
|23 - Cypres||23 - Germany|
|24 - Germany||24 - Lithuania|
|25 - Slovenia||25 - Denmark|
|26 - Serbia||26 - Serbia|
|27 - Australia||27 - Australia|
Source: TIMSS 2015
The results show a striking disparity across the country, with the ACT easily outperforming the other states and territories. The ACT was the only state or territory to achieve scores at a "high international benchmark" for science.
The ACT had a mean score of 544 for year 4 maths, followed by Victoria on 525 and NSW on 519. The Northern Territory was far behind with a mean score of just 467. Indigenous students attained an average score 74 points lower than non-Indigenous students.
Australian students with many books in the home - used as a proxy for socio-economic status - achieved results 74 points higher than those who reported having a few books in the home.
Unlike in most other countries, where gender differences were small, Australian boys significantly outperformed girls in year four maths.
Senator Birmingham said: "When I sit down with my state and territory counterparts in December these results highlight that we all need to focus on what evidence-backed initiatives will lift student outcomes and how is our funding best distributed to ensure it reaches those who need it most.
"A strong level of funding for our schools is obviously important but the focus of the Turnbull government is on how that money is being spent and what programs and initiatives should that money be supporting that will best help this and future generations of students."
Labor education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek said it would be "completely wrong" to draw any link between the results and Gonski funding, given the tests were conducted in 2014 - the first year of the Gonski reforms.
"If the Liberals continue to rip money out of schools, every child, in every school, will be robbed of the opportunity to reach their full potential," she said.
Australian Education Union president Correna Haythorpe said: "This is another demonstration of the need to target funding more directly to the schools which teach disadvantaged students, as Gonski funding is beginning to do."