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Indicator 5. Reading, Mathematics, and Science Performance of 15-Year-Olds

In 2009, U.S. 15-year-old students scored lower in reading literacy , on average, than their peers in Canada and Japan; not measurably different from their peers in Germany, France, and the United Kingdom; and higher than their peers in Italy and the Russian Federation.

On the PISA 2009 reading literacy scale, 15-year-old students in Canada scored higher, on average, than their peers in all other G-8 countries, except Japan (there was no measurable difference between Canada and Japan) (figure 5-1). The U.S. average score of 500 was lower than the average scores in Canada (524) and Japan (520); not measurably different from the average scores in Germany (497), France (496), and the United Kingdom (494); and higher than the average scores in Italy (486) and the Russian Federation (459).

On the PISA 2009 mathematics literacy scale, students in Japan scored higher, on average, than their peers in all other G-8 countries, except Canada (there was no measurable difference between Japan and Canada). The U.S. average score of 487 was lower than the average scores in Japan (529), Canada (527), Germany (513), and France (497); not measurably different from the average scores in the United Kingdom (492) and Italy (483); and higher than the average score in the Russian Federation (468).

On the PISA 2009 science literacy scale, students in Japan scored higher, on average, than their peers in all other G-8 countries. The U.S. average score of 502 was lower than the average scores in Japan (539), Canada (529), Germany (520), and the United Kingdom (514); not measurably different from the average score in France (498); and higher than the average scores in Italy (489) and the Russian Federation (478).

Since reading literacy was the major subject area for the 2009 cycle of PISA, results are also shown for three reading literacy subscales that reflect reading aspects or processes: accessing and retrieving information, integrating and interpreting, and reflecting and evaluating. On the access-and-retrieve subscale, 15-year-old students in Japan scored higher, on average, than their peers in all other G-8 countries (figure 5-2). The U.S. average score of 492 was lower than the average scores in Japan (530) and Canada (517); not measurably different from the average scores in Germany (501), France (492), and the United Kingdom (491); and higher than the average scores in Italy (482) and the Russian Federation (469).

On the integrate-and-interpret subscale, students in Canada scored higher, on average, than their peers in all other G-8 countries, except Japan (there was no measurable difference between Canada and Japan on this subscale). The U.S. average score of 495 was lower than the average scores in Canada (522) and Japan (520); not measurably different from the average scores in Germany (501), France (497), the United Kingdom (491), and Italy (490); and higher than the average score in the Russian Federation (467).

On the reflect-and-evaluate subscale, students in Canada scored higher, on average, than their peers in all other G-8 countries. The U.S. average score of 512 was lower than the average score in Canada (535); not measurably different from the average score in Japan (521); and higher than the average scores in the United Kingdom (503), France (495), Germany (491), Italy (482), and the Russian Federation (441).

Definitions and Methodology

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a system of international assessments that measures 15-year-old students' performance in reading literacy, mathematics literacy, and science literacy every 3 years. Each PISA cycle assesses one of the three subject areas in depth, including subscales and an overall scale score in the focal subject. In PISA 2009, reading literacy was the subject area assessed in depth, with results available in three reading literacy subscales. In PISA 2009, a smaller portion of the assessment was devoted to mathematics than in PISA 2003, when mathematics was the major subject area, and a smaller portion of the assessment was devoted to science than in PISA 2006, when science was the major subject area. For information about how reading literacy, mathematics literacy, and science literacy are defined in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), see the Definitions and Methodology section of indicator 8.

In PISA 2009, students were assessed on their reading literacy in relation to varying text types, reading processes, and situations or contexts, which were reflected in three subscales: access and retrieve, integrate and interpret, and reflect and evaluate. The access-and-retrieve subscale involves finding, selecting, and collecting information. Sometimes the information being sought is directly and plainly stated in the text; other times, more than one piece of information is required and knowledge of text structures and features may be called upon. The integrate-and-interpret subscale involves processing what is read to make internal sense of a text. Integrating tasks require readers to understand the relation(s) between different parts of a text, such as cause-effect, category-example, and compare-contrast. Interpreting refers to the process of making meaning from something that is not stated, whereby readers identify the underlying assumptions or implications of part or all of the text. The reflect-and-evaluate subscale involves drawing on knowledge, ideas, or values external to the text. When reflecting and evaluating, readers need to connect information in a text to knowledge from outside sources. To do so, readers must be able to develop an understanding of what is said and intended in a text and then test this mental representation against what they know and believe on the basis of either prior information or information found in other texts.

In PISA 2009, scores are reported on a scale from 0 to 1,000. In reading literacy, the average score across OECD countries is 493 with a standard deviation of 93. In mathematics literacy, the average score across OECD countries is 496 with a standard deviation of 92. In science literacy, the average score across OECD countries is 501 with a standard deviation of 94.

In PISA, "15-year-olds" refers to students who are between 15 years and 3 months old and 16 years and 2 months old at the time of the assessment and who have completed at least 6 years of formal schooling.

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