SOURCE: The National Center for Education Statistics

December 03, 2013 05:00 ET

U.S. Students' Scores Unchanged in International Assessment

More International Education Systems Surpass U.S.

WASHINGTON, DC--(Marketwired - December 03, 2013) - Average scores for U.S. 15-year-olds in 2012 were not measurably different from any of the previous comparison years, according to the results of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) released today by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Shanghai, one of three education systems in China that participated in PISA, remained the top performer in the world in all three subjects assessed: reading, mathematics, and science.

"While average U.S. scores were not measurably different from any previous PISA administration, some other countries have made progress and surpassed us," said Jack Buckley, NCES commissioner. "Ireland and Poland, for example, had average scores not measurably different than the U.S. in 2009, but have passed the U.S. in all three subjects."

Vietnam, a first-time participant, had a higher average score than the U.S. in two out of the three subjects -- mathematics and science. Singapore, the Republic of Korea, and Japan were among the top performers in all three subjects.

"PISA shows how our 15-year-olds are performing compared to their peers in a very diverse group of participating systems, including nearly every developed economy in the world. And it's especially valuable because it measures applied literacy skills, which are different from the skills assessed by other international assessments and our own national assessment," Buckley added. PISA is designed to assess what students have learned -- both inside and outside of school -- as they near the end of compulsory schooling, and how well they apply that knowledge in real-world contexts. It is coordinated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental organization of 34 member countries, and implemented in the United States by NCES.

"Comparatively, the U.S. does better in reading, though the average U.S. score is not measurably different from the OECD average," Buckley explained. He noted that although fewer education systems outperform the U.S. in reading than in mathematics and science, many did better in reading between 2009 and 2012, and surpassed the U.S., including Belgium, Chinese Taipei, Estonia, Germany, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Netherlands, Poland, and Switzerland. In addition, Austria, the Czech Republic, Israel, Italy, and Portugal, which previously scored below the U.S. average, had average scores not measurably different from the U.S. average in 2012.

"In mathematics, the U.S. average score remains below the OECD average," said Buckley. "And when you look across the whole distribution of students, you see that we have a greater percentage of students who score in the lowest performance levels, compared to the OECD average, and a lower percentage of top math performers." 

The U.S. states of Connecticut, Florida, and Massachusetts participated for the first time as international benchmarking systems and received separate scores. Massachusetts's average scores were higher than the U.S. and OECD average scores in all three subjects, and Connecticut's average scores were higher than the OECD average scores in science and reading.

Key findings:

MATHEMATICS LITERACY:

  • Average scores in mathematics literacy ranged from 613 in Shanghai-China to 368 in Peru. The U.S. average score was 481, which was lower than the OECD average of 494. The U.S. average was lower than 29 education systems, higher than 26 education systems, and not measurably different than 9 education systems.
  • Massachusetts and Connecticut mathematics literacy average scores were 514 and 506, respectively. Massachusetts' average was higher than the OECD and U.S. averages and Connecticut's was higher than the U.S. average but not measurably different than the OECD average. Florida's average score (467) was lower than the OECD and U.S. averages.
  • The U.S. mathematics literacy average score in 2012 was not measurably different than any earlier comparable time point (2003, 2006 and 2009). There was no measurable change in average mathematics literacy scores in 33 of the 62 education systems, including the United States, that participated in PISA in 2009 and 2012, but 18 education systems' average scores increased between 2012 and 2009. Percentages of top performing 15-year-old students (those scoring at PISA proficiency level 5 or above) in mathematics literacy ranged from 55 percent in Shanghai-China to nearly 0 percent in Colombia and Argentina. In the United States, 9 percent of 15-year-old students scored at proficiency level 5 or above, which was lower than the OECD average of 13 percent. The U.S. percentage was lower than 27 education systems, higher than 22 education systems, and not measurably different than 13 education systems.
  • The percentage of 15-year-old students performing below PISA proficiency level 2, which is considered a baseline of proficiency by the OECD, ranged from 4 percent in Shanghai-China to 76 percent in Indonesia. In the United States, 26 percent of 15-year-old students scored below level 2, which was higher than the OECD average of 23 percent. The U.S. percentage was higher than 29 education systems, lower than 26 education systems, and not measurably different than 9 education systems.
  • In Massachusetts and Connecticut, 19 and 16 percent of students, respectively, were top performers in mathematics, scoring at PISA proficiency level 5 or above and 18 and 21 percent, respectively, scored below level 2. In Florida, 6 percent of student scored at level 5 or above and 30 percent scored below level 2.

SCIENCE LITERACY:

  • Average scores in science literacy ranged from 580 in Shanghai-China to 373 in Peru. The U.S. average science literacy score was 497. This was not different from the OECD average of 501. This was lower than the average in 22 education systems. The U.S. average was higher than 29 education systems and was not measurably different than 13 education systems.
  • Massachusetts and Connecticut science literacy average scores, 527 and 521, respectively, were higher than the OECD and U.S. averages. Florida's average score (485) was lower than the OECD average and not measurably different than the U.S. average.
  • The U.S. science literacy average score in 2012 was not measurably different than either earlier comparable time point (2006 and 2009). There was no measurable change in average science literacy scores in 43 of the 62 education systems, including the United States, that participated in PISA in 2009 and 2012, but 13 education systems' average scores increased between 2009 and 2012.
  • Percentages of top-performing 15-year-old students (those scoring at PISA proficiency level 5 or above) in science literacy ranged from 27 percent in Shanghai-China and 23 percent in Singapore to nearly 0 percent in eight education systems. In the United States, 7 percent of 15-year-old students scored at proficiency level 5 or above, which was not measurably different from the OECD average of 8 percent. The U.S. percentage was lower than 17 education systems, higher than 27 education systems, and not measurably different than 15 education systems.
  • In science literacy, the percentage of 15-year-old students performing below PISA proficiency level 2, which is considered a baseline of proficiency by the OECD, ranged from 3 percent in Shanghai-China and 5 percent in Estonia to 67 percent in Indonesia and 68 percent in Peru. In the United States, 18 percent of U.S. 15-year-old students scored below level 2, which was not measurably different from the OECD average of 18 percent. The U.S. percentage was higher than 21 education systems, lower than 29 education systems, and not measurably different than 14 education systems.
  • In Massachusetts and Connecticut, 14 and 13 percent of students, respectively, were top performers in science, scoring at PISA proficiency level 5 or above and 11 and 13 percent, respectively, scored below level 2. In Florida, 5 percent of student scored at level 5 or above and 21 percent scored below level 2.

READING LITERACY:

  • Average scores in reading literacy ranged from 570 in Shanghai-China to 384 in Peru. The U.S. average score was 498, which was not measurably different from the OECD average of 496. The U.S. average was lower than 19 education systems, higher than 34 education systems, and not measurably different than 11 education systems.
  • Massachusetts and Connecticut reading literacy average scores, 527 and 521, respectively, were higher than the OECD and U.S. averages. Massachusetts was outperformed by only three education systems, and Connecticut by four. Florida's average score (492) was not measurably different than the OECD or U.S. averages.
  • The U.S. reading literacy average score in 2012 was not measurably different than any earlier comparable time point (2000, 2003, and 2009). There was no measurable change in average reading literacy scores in 34 of the 62 education systems, including the United States, that participated in PISA in 2009 and 2012, but 21 education systems' average scores increased between 2009 and 2012.
  • Percentages of top performing 15-year-old students (those scoring at PISA proficiency level 5 or above) in reading literacy ranged from 25 percent in Shanghai-China and 21 percent in Singapore to nearly 0 percent in 3 education systems. In the United States, 8 percent of U.S. 15-year-old students scored at proficiency level 5 or above, which was not measurably different from the OECD average of 8 percent. The U.S. percentage was lower than 14 education systems, higher than 33 education systems, and not measurably different than 12 education systems.
  • In reading literacy, the percentage of 15-year-old students performing below PISA proficiency level 2, which is considered a baseline of proficiency by the OECD, ranged from 3 percent in Shanghai-China to 60 percent in Peru. In the United States, 17 percent of U.S. 15-year-old students scored below level 2, which was not measurably different from the OECD average of 18 percent. The U.S. percentage was higher than 14 education systems, lower than 33 education systems, and not measurably different than 17 education systems.
  • In Massachusetts and Connecticut, 16 and 15 percent of students, respectively, were top performers in science, scoring at PISA proficiency level 5 or above and 11 and 13 percent, respectively, scored below level 2. In Florida, 6 percent of student scored at level 5 or above and 17 percent scored below level 2.

The full report is available at http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/pisa/.

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), first implemented in 2000, is an international assessment that measures the performance of 15-year-old students in reading literacy, mathematics literacy, and science literacy. PISA 2012 was the fifth cycle of the assessment. Target populations for PISA include all 15-year-olds in education institutions with grade 7 or higher, regardless of the type of education institution or whether it is publicly or privately funded. Students could be excluded for functional or intellectual disabilities or limited proficiency in the test language. The U.S. sample included both public and private schools, randomly selected and weighted to be representative of the nation's 15-year-old students.

PISA was developed and organized by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The OECD is an intergovernmental organization made up of 34 mostly industrialized member countries like the United States, Japan, Germany, the Republic of Korea, and the United Kingdom.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations. NCES is located within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences.

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