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International comparisons of achievement

Question:
How does the achievement of American students compare to that of students in other countries?

Response:

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), coordinated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), has measured the performance of 15-year-old students in mathematics, science, and reading literacy every 3 years since 2000. In 2012, PISA was administered in 65 countries and education systems, including all 34 member countries of the OECD. In addition to participating in the U.S. national sample, three states—Connecticut, Florida, and Massachusetts—opted to participate as individual education systems and had separate samples of public schools and public school students included in PISA to obtain state-level results. PISA 2012 results are reported by average scale score (from 0 to 1,000) as well as by the percentage of students reaching particular proficiency levels. Proficiency results are presented in terms of the percentages of students reaching proficiency level 5 or above (i.e., percentages of top performers) and the percentages of students performing below proficiency level 2 (i.e., percentages of low performers).

Mathematics literacy

PISA reports mathematics literacy in terms of six proficiency levels, with level 1 being the lowest and level 6 being the highest. Students scoring at proficiency levels 5 and above are considered to be top performers since they have demonstrated advanced mathematical thinking and reasoning skills required to solve problems of greater complexity. The percentage of top performers in the United States was lower than the average of the OECD countries’ percentages of top performers (9 vs. 13 percent). Percentages of top performers ranged from near 0 percent in Colombia and Argentina to 55 percent in Shanghai-CHN. Twenty-seven education systems and two U.S. states had higher percentages of top performers in mathematics literacy than the United States. Massachusetts and Connecticut both had higher percentages of top performers (19 and 16 percent, respectively) than the United States (9 percent), while Florida had a lower percentage (6 percent). In addition to scoring above the U.S. average, Massachusetts scored above the OECD average. Connecticut scored above the U.S. national average, but its score was not measurably different from the OECD average. Florida's average score (467) was below the U.S. national average.

Science Literacy

In science literacy, average scores ranged from 373 in Peru to 580 in Shanghai-CHN. The U.S. average science score (497) was not measurably different from the OECD average (501). Twenty-two education systems and 2 U.S. states had higher average science scores than the United States, and 13 systems and 1 U.S. state had scores that were not measurably different. The 22 education systems with higher scores than the U.S. average score were Shanghai-CHN, Hong Kong-CHN, Singapore, Japan, Finland, Estonia, the Republic of Korea, Vietnam, Poland, Canada, Liechtenstein, Germany, Chinese Taipei-CHN, the Netherlands, Ireland, Australia, Macao-CHN, New Zealand, Switzerland, Slovenia, the United Kingdom, and the Czech Republic. Within the United States, Massachusetts and Connecticut scored above the U.S. average. In addition to scoring above the U.S. national average, Massachusetts (527) and Connecticut (521) also scored above the OECD average. Florida (485) had an average score not measurably different from the U.S. average and lower than the OECD average.

Reading Literacy

In reading literacy, average scores ranged from 384 in Peru to 570 in Shanghai-CHN. The U.S. average score (498) was not measurably different from the OECD average (496). Nineteen education systems and 2 U.S. states had higher average reading scores and 11 education systems and 1 U.S. state had scores that were not measurably different. The 19 education systems with higher average scores than the United States in reading literacy were Shanghai-CHN, Hong Kong-CHN, Singapore, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Finland, Ireland, Chinese Taipei-CHN, Canada, Poland, Estonia, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Australia, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Macao-CHN, Belgium, and Germany. Within the United States, Massachusetts and Connecticut scored above the U.S. average. In reading, Massachusetts (527) and Connecticut (521) scored above both the U.S. national average and the OECD average. Florida had an average reading score (492) that was not measurably different from either the U.S. average or the OECD average.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2016). The Condition of Education 2016 (NCES 2016-144), International Assessments.

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