CANBERRA, Dec 11 - Australia has a lot of work to do if its schools are to meet the goal of being in the top five globally by 2025, experts and Federal Education Minister Peter Garrett acknowledge.
The latest results from international testing of Year 4 and Year 8 students, released on Tuesday, show performance in maths and science has been stagnant since 1995.
They also show about a quarter of Year 4 students can't read at a minimum acceptable standard.
Only one in 10 Australian students reached the advanced international benchmark in all three subjects.
"To say the results are disappointing is an understatement," Australian Council for Educational Research chief executive Geoff Masters said on releasing the studies.
He said it was concerning to see such results from a developed country like Australia.
Federal Education Minister Peter Garrett said the "flat-lining" performance confirmed the need for urgent action in schools.
"These results are a wake-up call for the Australian education community, parents and governments," he said in a statement.
In the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), Australian Year 4 students were significantly outperformed by 21 other countries, out of 45 countries tested in 2011.
The 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) found Year 4 students in 17 countries out of 50 did significantly better than Australians, and in 18 other countries for science.
For Year 8s the news was slightly better, with just nine out of 42 countries outperforming Australia in science and six in maths.
But the trend showed that except for an improvement in Year 4 maths results between 1995 and 2011, Australian students' performances stagnated over the past 16 years.
At the same time, many other countries either dramatically or steadily improved their performances.
Masters said if we continued on the current path, it was difficult to see how Australia would be in the top five for maths, science and reading by 2025.
"We need to look carefully at what improving countries are doing to see what lessons there are for Australia," he said.
"These latest results underline the enormous challenge we face if we are to lift Australian achievement levels in reading, mathematics and science to the levels of the highest performing countries."
He said meeting that challenge needed a well-planned and co-ordinated effort that involved governments, education systems, schools, parents and the broader community.
Garrett did note that while the PIRLS and TIMSS results were for 2011, the testing took place in late 2010 before the new national curriculum began and before the bulk of recent government investment in schools had been spent.
Since then, the government had seen good signs of improvement, particularly among schools running specialist programs, he said.
"But we clearly need to do more," Garrett said.
"These results just aren't good enough if we want Australia to remain competitive and prosperous in the Asian century."
He was hopeful the national plan for school improvement, the Labor government response to the Gonski school funding review, would lift results.