Children in their final year of primary or intermediate school are falling behind in writing and science, a new study shows.
The National Monitoring Study of Student Achievement tested 2000 Year 8 students in 2012 and found most were below the level of the curriculum expected for their age in the subjects.
The study by the University of Otago and the Council for Educational Research says Year 8 children should be writing at curriculum level 4, but it found only 35% at or above that level. The majority were below curriculum level 4, with most at levels 3 or 2.
In science, the results were even worse, with about 80% of those in Year 8 falling short of the expected level.
The study also considered Year 4 students and, on average, they were performing at their expected levels in writing and science.
The curriculum levels are different to the national standards, where 65% of Year 8s met the writing standard.
The author of the study, Alison Gilmore, told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme on Wednesday it was surprising to find the extent to which Year 8 students were failing.
"There appears to be a mismatch between the expectations as set out in the New Zealand curriculum for Year 8 and Year 8 students' achievements."
Ms Gilmore says she hopes the research will prompt the education sector to take a close look at national standards.
The Prime Minister's chief science adviser, Sir Peter Gluckman, says loss of interest is just one of many reasons for poor performance in the subject.
"We've known for a long time that children lose their aptitude and interest in science sometime late in the primary school years.
"I think that some of it's related to curriculum, some of it relates to teacher skill, and some of it relates to the family background. It's all those issues that need to be addressed in concert."
Sir Peter says a $3.5 million boost for science teaching announced on Wednesday will help address the problem.