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Information for Parents

What is PISA's main focus? Does it impact students' grades? PISA is an important international study that has been conducted every 3 years since 2000. It measures student learning in reading, mathematics, science, and, in 2012, problem solving and financial literacy. The focus in PISA is on assessing how well students can apply their knowledge and skills to problems within a real-life context. It provides information on how students' performance in the United States compares with that of students in more than 60 other countries. A student's PISA performance will not impact his or her academic grades.

The U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics sponsors U.S. participation in PISA. Reports of the findings from PISA 2012 will not identify participating districts, schools, students, or staff. Individual responses will be aggregated with those from other participants to produce summary statistics and reports.

How are students selected to participate? In PISA, each country is represented by a small sample of schools and students selected to reflect its population and educational contexts and provide valid estimates of student achievement. The selection method ensures that the U.S. participants will be representative of the whole United States, not just particular types of schools or students. Schools in the PISA U.S. sample are sampled from a list of all schools in the United States enrolling 15-year-olds. Within each school, students are randomly sampled from a list of all 15-year-olds enrolled in the school. Other countries use the same approach so that no single country will have an advantage over another in terms of the schools or students being assessed. In the United States, 240 schools have been randomly selected to take part in PISA 2012. In each school, 50 students will be randomly selected to participate.

What does participating in PISA 2012 involve for schools and students? PISA staff will visit the school and administer the assessment, which consists of two sessions. In the first session, all sampled students will participate in a 2-hour paper-and-pencil assessment with a combination of mathematics, reading, science, and financial literacy questions, as well as a brief questionnaire. In the second session, about half of these students will also take a 40-minute computer-based assessment of mathematics, reading or problem-solving, or a combination of these subjects. The second session will take place on the same day.

What are the benefits of participation? The nation as a whole benefits from PISA by gaining a greater understanding of how the knowledge and skills of U.S. students compare with those of students from other countries. Parents can support PISA by encouraging their teenagers, if selected for PISA, to participate and to take the assessment seriously, so that researchers can get an accurate picture of the knowledge and skills of U.S. students. Because PISA has a real-life focus and involves students applying what they know and can do, students have said they enjoy the experience.

What if I have additional questions? Examples of PISA questions can be found here. Examples of reports from earlier cycles of PISA can be found here. For other information or questions, see the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) here, or you can use the “Contact Us" button at the top of the page. In addition, if you have specific questions about PISA in your school, you may call PISA staff at 1-888-638-2597 or send an email to

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National Center for Education Statistics -
U.S. Department of Education