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Jack Buckley
Commissioner, National Center for Education Statistics

NCES Statement on PISA 2012
December 3, 2013

Commissioner Jack Buckley's Briefing Slides MS PowerPoint (17 MB)

Today, the National Center for Education Statistics is releasing results from the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

Overall, the results show no measurable change in U.S. average scores in mathematics, science, or reading literacy between 2012 and any of the previous U.S. PISA results. U.S. 15-year-old students remained below the OECD average score in mathematics literacy and not measurably different from the OECD average in science and reading literacy. Three states participated in PISA 2012 with separate samples of public schools and public-school students, in addition to contributing to the U.S. national sample. Average scores for Massachusetts were above the OECD average in all three subjects, and only three education systems had higher average scores in reading literacy than Massachusetts. Connecticut had higher average scores than the OECD average in reading literacy and science literacy and was not measurably different from the OECD average in mathematics literacy. Florida's average scores were below the OECD average in mathematics literacy and science literacy, but not measurably different from the OECD average in reading literacy.

About PISA

PISA is a system of international assessments that allows countries to compare outcomes of learning as students near the end of compulsory schooling. PISA has measured the performance of 15-year-old students in mathematics, science, and reading literacy every three years since 2000. In 2012, PISA was administered in 65 education systems, including all 34 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and 31 other countries and subnational education systems. Some countries also oversampled students at the subnational level to augment their national results with state or other regional results. In the United States, Connecticut, Florida, and Massachusetts opted to have separate samples of public schools and public-school students included in PISA in order to obtain state-level results. In each participating education system, probability sampling was used to obtain a representative sample of all 15-year-old students, regardless of grade, educational track, or school program type.

PISA's goal is to assess students' preparation for the challenges of life as young adults. PISA assesses the application of knowledge in mathematics, science, and reading literacy to problems within a real-life context. PISA does not focus explicitly on curricular outcomes and uses the term “literacy” in each subject area to indicate its broad focus on the application of knowledge and skills.

Each PISA data collection cycle assesses one of the three core subject areas in depth (considered the major subject area), although all three core subjects are assessed in each cycle. Mathematics was the major subject area in 2012 and more detailed information is available on performance in mathematics. In 2012, mathematics, science, and reading literacy were assessed primarily through a paper-and-pencil assessment, and problem solving was administered via a computer-based assessment. In addition to these core assessments, education systems could participate in optional paper-based financial literacy and computer-based mathematics and reading assessments. The United States participated in these optional assessments. Results are available today for mathematics, science, and reading literacy, as well as for the computer-based mathematics and reading assessments. Results for problem solving and financial literacy will be available in 2014.

How PISA Is Reported

PISA results are presented in the report released today in terms of average scale scores and the percentage of 15-year-old students reaching selected proficiency levels, comparing the United States with other participating education systems. Results for the three U.S. states are also reported. For proficiency levels, results are reported in terms of the percentage reaching level 5 or above and the percentage below level 2. Higher proficiency levels represent the knowledge, skills, and capabilities needed to perform tasks of greater complexity. At levels 5 and 6, students demonstrate higher-level skills and are referred to as “top performers” in the subject. Conversely, students performing below level 2 are referred to as “low performers.”

All differences described here using PISA data are statistically significant at the .05 level. Differences that are not statistically significant are referred to as being “similar” or “not measurably different.”

U.S. Performance in 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 (494), as well as 29 education systems and the U.S. states of Massachusetts (514) and Connecticut (506), but higher than the average in Florida (467). The U.S. average was on the same level as Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, the Russian Federation, and the Slovak Republic.

Proficiency Levels

Percentages of top performing 15-year-old students (those scoring at 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 level 5 or above, which was lower than the OECD average (13 percent).

The percentage of 15-year-old students performing below level 2 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.

U.S. Performance in Science Literacy

Average scores in science literacy ranged from 580 in Shanghai-China to 373 in Peru. The U.S. average (497) was not measurably different from the OECD average (501) or Florida average (485). It was lower than 22 education systems, as well as Massachusetts (527) and Connecticut (521). Education systems at the same level as the United States included Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, France, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Portugal, and Spain.

Proficiency Levels

Percentages of top-performing 15-year-old students in science literacy ranged from 27 percent in Shanghai-China and 23 percent in Singapore to nearly 0 percent in 8 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 percentage of 15-year-old students performing below level 2 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—on a par with the OECD average (18 percent).

U.S. Performance in Reading Literacy

Average scores in in reading literacy ranged from 570 in Shanghai-China to 384 in Peru. The U.S. average (498) was not measurably different from the OECD average (496) or the Florida average (492). It was lower than 19 education systems and Massachusetts (527) and Connecticut (521). The U.S. average was at a similar level as the averages in Austria, Denmark, France, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Norway, Portugal, the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom, and Vietnam.

Proficiency Levels

Percentages of top performing 15-year-old students 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 (8 percent).

The percentage of 15-year-old students performing below level 2 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—not measurably different from the OECD average (18 percent).

U.S. Performance Over Time

There were no changes over time in the U.S. average scores in any subject: In mathematics literacy, science literacy, and reading literacy the U.S. PISA 2012 average scores were not different from any earlier comparable time point.

U.S. Performance on Computer-Based Assessments

On the computer-based mathematics literacy assessment (administered in 32 education systems), average scores ranged from 566 in Singapore and 562 in Shanghai-China to 397 in Colombia. U.S. 15-year-old students had an average score of 498, which was not measurably different from the average of the participating OECD countries (497). It was lower than 12 of the 32 participating education systems. Austria, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Sweden, the Russian Federation, and the Slovak Republic all had average scores not measurably different from the U.S. average. The three U.S. states did not administer the computer-based assessments.

On the computer-based reading literacy assessment, average scores ranged from 567 in Singapore to 396 in Colombia. U.S. 15-year-old students had an average score of 511, which was higher than the average of the participating OECD countries (497). Seven of the 32 participating systems had higher average scores. The U.S. average was on par with Australia, Belgium, Chinese Taipei, France, Ireland, Italy, and Macao-China.

For More Information

This statement highlights some of the major findings from PISA 2012 from the U.S. perspective; the Performance of U.S. 15-Year-Old Students in Mathematics, Science, and Reading Literacy in an International Context report, available on the NCES website, provides more details. Also, other findings are available in the OECD's report on PISA 2012. For more information on PISA and the U.S. PISA 2012 results, please visit the PISA website at http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/pisa/.

Commissioner Jack Buckley's Briefing Slides MS PowerPoint (17 MB)

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National Center for Education Statistics - http://nces.ed.gov
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