In 2003, U.S. performance in mathematics literacy and problem solving was lower than the average performance for most OECD countries (table 2 and table 3). The United States also performed below the OECD average on each mathematics literacy subscale representing a specific content area (space and shape, change and relationships, quantity, and uncertainty). This is somewhat different from the PISA 2000 results, when reading literacy was the major subject area, which showed the United States performing at the OECD average (Lemke et al. 2001).
Along with scale scores, PISA 2003 also uses six proficiency levels (levels 1 through 6, with level 6 being the highest level of proficiency) to describe student performance in mathematics literacy (exhibit 5) and three proficiency levels (levels 1 through 3, with level 3 being the highest level of proficiency) to describe student performance in problem solving (exhibit 9). In mathematics literacy, the United States had greater percentages of students below level 1 and at levels 1 and 2 than the OECD average percentages (figure 5). The United States also had a lower percentage of students at levels 4, 5, and 6 than the OECD average percentages. Results for each of the four mathematics content areas followed a similar pattern. In problem solving, the United States also had greater percentages of students below level 1 and at level 1 than the OECD average percentages, and a lower percentage of students at levels 2 and 3 than the OECD average percentages (figure 8).
This is also somewhat different from the PISA 2000 reading literacy results, which showed that while the percentages of U.S. students performing at level 1 and below were not measurably different from the OECD averages, the United States had a greater percentage of students performing at the highest level (level 5) compared to the OECD average (Lemke et al. 2001). In mathematics literacy and problem solving in 2003, even the highest U.S. achievers (those in the top 10 percent in the United States) were outperformed on average by their OECD counterparts (figure 4 and figure 7)
There were no measurable changes in the U.S. scores from 2000 to 2003 on either the space and shape subscale or the change and relationships subscale, the only content areas for which trend data from 2000 to 2003 are available. In both 2000 and 2003, about two-thirds of the other participating OECD countries outperformed the United States in these content areas.