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International Comparisons

International Comparisons: Reading, Mathematics, and Science Literacy of 15-Year-Old Students

Last Updated: May 2020
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This indicator also appears under Preprimary, Elementary, and Secondary Education.

In 2018, there were 8 education systems with higher average reading literacy scores for 15-year-olds than the United States, 30 with higher mathematics literacy scores, and 11 with higher science literacy scores.

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 reading, mathematics, and science literacy every 3 years since 2000. In 2018, PISA was administered in 791 countries and education systems,2 including all 37 member countries of the OECD.

PISA 2018 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 and above (i.e., top performers) and the percentages of students performing below proficiency level 2 (i.e., low performers). Proficiency level 2 is considered a baseline of proficiency by the OECD.

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Table 1. Average scores of 15-year-old students on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) reading literacy scale, by education system: 2018
Education system Average score    Education system Average score
OECD average 487    Ukraine 466
B-S-J-Z (China)1 555    Turkey2 466
Singapore 549    Slovak Republic 458
Macau (China) 525    Greece 457
Hong Kong (China) 524    Chile 452
Estonia 523    Malta 448
Canada 520    Serbia 439
Finland 520    United Arab Emirates 432
Ireland 518    Romania2 428
Korea, Republic of 514       Uruguay 427
Poland 512       Costa Rica2 426
Sweden 506       Cyprus 424
New Zealand 506       Moldova, Republic of 424
United States 505       Montenegro, Republic of 421
United Kingdom 504       Mexico2 420
Japan 504       Bulgaria2 420
Australia 503       Jordan2 419
Chinese Taipei 503       Malaysia2 415
Denmark 501       Brazil2 413
Norway 499       Colombia2 412
Germany 498       Brunei Darussalam 408
Slovenia 495    Qatar 407
Belgium 493    Albania 405
France 493    Bosnia and Herzegovina 403
Portugal 492    Argentina 402
Czech Republic 490    Peru2 401
Netherlands 485    Saudi Arabia 399
Austria 484    Thailand2 393
Switzerland 484    North Macedonia 393
Croatia 479    Baku (Azerbaijan)3 389
Latvia 479    Kazakhstan 387
Russian Federation 479    Georgia 380
Italy 476    Panama2 377
Hungary 476    Indonesia 371
Lithuania 476    Morocco2 359
Iceland 474    Lebanon 353
Belarus 474    Kosovo 353
Israel 470    Dominican Republic2 342
Luxembourg 470    Philippines2 340

Average score is higher than U.S. average score at the .05 level of statistical significance.

Average score is lower than U.S. average score at the .05 level of statistical significance.

1 B-S-J-Z (China) refers to the four PISA participating China provinces: Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang.

2 At least 50 percent but less than 75 percent of the 15-year-old population is covered by the PISA sample.

3 Less than 50 percent of the 15-year-old population is covered by the PISA sample.

NOTE: Education systems are ordered by 2018 average score. Scores are reported on a scale from 0 to 1,000. Italics indicate non-OECD countries and education systems. Education systems are marked as OECD countries if they were OECD members in 2018. The OECD average is the average of the national averages of the OECD member countries, with each country weighted equally. In the case of reading literacy, the 2018 OECD average does not include Spain due to issues with its PISA 2018 reading literacy data. Although Spain’s PISA 2018 data meet international technical standards, its reading literacy data show unusual student response behavior that prevent them from being reported at this time. Although Vietnam participated in PISA 2018, technical problems with its data prevent results from being discussed in this indicator.

SOURCE: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), 2018. See Digest of Education Statistics 2019, table 602.50.

In 2018, average reading literacy scores ranged from 340 in the Philippines to 555 in Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang (B-S-J-Z) (China). The U.S. average reading score (505) was higher than the OECD average score (487). Eight education systems had higher average reading scores than did the United States, and 11 education systems had scores that were not measurably different from the U.S. score. [Other]
Figure 1. Percentage of 15-year-old students performing on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) reading literacy scale, by selected proficiency levels and education system: 2018
Figure 1. Percentage of 15-year-old students performing on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) reading literacy scale, by selected proficiency levels and education system: 2018

Below level 2

At or above level 5

# Rounds to zero.

! Interpret data with caution. Estimate is unstable due to high coefficient of variation (> 30 percent and ≤ 50 percent).

!! Interpret data with caution. Estimate is unstable because the standard error represents more than 50 percent of the estimate.

* p < .05. Significantly different from the U.S. percentage.

1 B-S-J-Z (China) refers to the four PISA participating China provinces: Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang.

2 At least 50 percent but less than 75 percent of the 15-year-old population is covered by the PISA sample.

3 Less than 50 percent of the 15-year-old population is covered by the PISA sample.

NOTE: Education systems are ordered by 2018 percentages of 15-year-olds in levels 5 and above. Descriptions of the skills and knowledge of students at each reading proficiency level are available at https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/pisa/pisa2018/pdf/ReadingProfLevelDescriptionV2.pdf. To reach a particular proficiency level, a student must correctly answer a majority of items at that level. Students were classified into reading proficiency levels according to their scores. Exact cut scores are as follows: below level 2 is a score less than or equal to 407.47; at or above level 5 is a score equal to or greater than 625.61. Scores are reported on a scale from 0 to 1,000. Italics indicate non-OECD countries and education systems. Education systems are marked as OECD countries if they were OECD members in 2018. The OECD average is the average of the national percentages of the OECD member countries, with each country weighted equally. In the case of reading literacy, the 2018 OECD average does not include Spain due to issues with its PISA 2018 reading literacy data. Although Spain’s PISA 2018 data meet international technical standards, its reading literacy data show unusual student response behavior that prevent them from being reported at this time. Although Vietnam participated in PISA 2018, technical problems with its data prevent results from being discussed in this indicator.

SOURCE: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), 2018. See Digest of Education Statistics 2019, table 602.50.

PISA reports reading literacy in terms of eight proficiency levels, with level 1c being the lowest and level 6 being the highest. Descriptions of the skills and knowledge of students at each reading proficiency level can be found here. Students performing at levels 5 and 6 have mastered the sophisticated reading skills required to interpret and evaluate deeply embedded or abstract text and are considered top performers. The percentage of U.S. students who were top performers in reading literacy (14 percent) was larger than the OECD average percentage (9 percent). Percentages of top performers ranged from nearly 0 percent in 16 education systems to 26 percent in Singapore. Two education systems, Singapore and B-S-J-Z (China), had larger percentages of top performers in reading literacy than did the United States. [Other]
The percentage of U.S. students who were low performers in reading literacy (19 percent) was smaller than the OECD average percentage (23 percent). Percentages of low performers ranged from 5 percent in B-S-J-Z (China) to 81 percent in the Philippines. Twelve education systems had smaller percentages of low performers in reading literacy than did the United States. [Other]
Table 2. Average scores of 15-year-old students on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) mathematics literacy scale, by education system: 2018
Education system Average score Education system Average score
OECD average 489 Croatia 464
B-S-J-Z (China)1 591 Israel 463
Singapore 569 Turkey2 454
Macau (China) 558 Ukraine 453
Hong Kong (China) 551 Greece 451
Chinese Taipei 531 Cyprus 451
Japan 527 Serbia 448
Korea, Republic of 526 Malaysia2 440
Estonia 523 Albania 437
Netherlands 519 Bulgaria2 436
Poland 516 United Arab Emirates 435
Switzerland 515 Brunei Darussalam 430
Canada 512 Romania2 430
Denmark 509 Montenegro, Republic of 430
Slovenia 509 Kazakhstan 423
Belgium 508 Moldova, Republic of 421
Finland 507 Baku (Azerbaijan)3 420
Sweden 502 Thailand2 419
United Kingdom 502 Uruguay 418
Norway 501 Chile 417
Germany 500 Qatar 414
Ireland 500 Mexico2 409
Czech Republic 499 Bosnia and Herzegovina 406
Austria 499 Costa Rica2 402
Latvia 496 Peru2 400
France 495 Jordan2 400
Iceland 495 Georgia 398
New Zealand 494 North Macedonia 394
Portugal 492 Lebanon 393
Australia 491 Colombia2 391
Russian Federation 488 Brazil2 384
Italy 487 Argentina 379
Slovak Republic 486 Indonesia 379
Luxembourg 483 Saudi Arabia 373
Spain 481 Morocco2 368
Lithuania 481 Kosovo 366
Hungary 481 Panama2 353
United States 478 Philippines2 353
Belarus 472 Dominican Republic2 325
Malta 472

Average score is higher than U.S. average score at the .05 level of statistical significance.

Average score is lower than U.S. average score at the .05 level of statistical significance.

1 B-S-J-Z (China) refers to the four PISA participating China provinces: Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang.

2 At least 50 percent but less than 75 percent of the 15-year-old population is covered by the PISA sample.

3 Less than 50 percent of the 15-year-old population is covered by the PISA sample.

NOTE: Education systems are ordered by 2018 average score. Scores are reported on a scale from 0 to 1,000. Italics indicate non-OECD countries and education systems. Education systems are marked as OECD countries if they were OECD members in 2018. The OECD average is the average of the national averages of the OECD member countries, with each country weighted equally. Although Vietnam participated in PISA 2018, technical problems with its data prevent results from being discussed in this indicator.

SOURCE: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), 2018. See Digest of Education Statistics 2019, table 602.60.

In mathematics literacy, average scores in 2018 ranged from 325 in the Dominican Republic to 591 in B-S-J-Z (China). The U.S. average mathematics score (478) was lower than the OECD average score (489). Thirty education systems had higher average mathematics scores than did the United States, and 8 education systems had scores that were not measurably different from the U.S. score. [Other]
Figure 2. Percentage of 15-year-old students performing on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) mathematics literacy scale, by selected proficiency levels and education system: 2018
Figure 2. Percentage of 15-year-old students performing on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) mathematics literacy scale, by selected proficiency levels and education system: 2018

Below level 2

At or above level 5

# Rounds to zero.

! Interpret data with caution. Estimate is unstable due to high coefficient of variation (> 30 percent and ≤ 50 percent).

!! Interpret data with caution. Estimate is unstable because the standard error represents more than 50 percent of the estimate.

* p < .05. Significantly different from the U.S. percentage.

1 B-S-J-Z (China) refers to the four PISA participating China provinces: Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang.

2 At least 50 percent but less than 75 percent of the 15-year-old population is covered by the PISA sample.

3 Less than 50 percent of the 15-year-old population is covered by the PISA sample.

NOTE: Education systems are ordered by 2018 percentages of 15-year-olds in levels 5 and above. Descriptions of the skills and knowledge of students at each mathematics proficiency level are available at https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/pisa/pisa2018/pdf/MathProfLevelDescriptionV2.pdf. To reach a particular proficiency level, a student must correctly answer a majority of items at that level. Students were classified into mathematics proficiency levels according to their scores. Exact cut scores are as follows: Below Level 2 (a score less than 420.07); At or Above Level 5 is a score equal to or greater than 606.99. Scores are reported on a scale from 0 to 1,000. Italics indicate non-OECD countries and education systems. Education systems are marked as OECD countries if they were OECD members in 2018. The OECD average is the average of the national percentages of the OECD member countries, with each country weighted equally. Although Vietnam participated in PISA 2018, technical problems with its data prevent results from being discussed in this indicator.

SOURCE: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), 2018. See Digest of Education Statistics 2019, table 602.60.

PISA reports mathematics literacy by six proficiency levels, with level 1 being the lowest and level 6 being the highest. Descriptions of the skills and knowledge of students at each mathematics proficiency level can be found here. At levels 5 and 6, students can demonstrate the advanced mathematical thinking and reasoning skills required to solve problems of greater complexity. The percentage of U.S. students who were top performers on the mathematics literacy scale (8 percent) was smaller than the OECD average percentage (11 percent). Percentages of top performers ranged from nearly 0 percent in nine education systems to 44 percent in B-S-J-Z (China). Twenty-nine education systems had larger percentages of top performers in mathematics literacy than did the United States. [Other]
The percentage of U.S. students who were low performers in mathematics literacy (27 percent) was larger than the OECD average percentage (24 percent). Percentages of low performers ranged from 2 percent in B-S-J-Z (China) to 91 percent in the Dominican Republic. Thirty education systems had smaller percentages of low performers in mathematics literacy than did the United States. [Other]
Table 3. Average scores of 15-year-old students on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) science literacy scale, by education system: 2018
Education system Average score Education system Average score
OECD average 489 Italy 468
B-S-J-Z (China)1 590 Slovak Republic 464
Singapore 551 Israel 462
Macau (China) 544 Malta 457
Estonia 530 Greece 452
Japan 529 Chile 444
Finland 522 Serbia 440
Korea, Republic of 519 Cyprus 439
Canada 518 Malaysia2 438
Hong Kong (China) 517 United Arab Emirates 434
Chinese Taipei 516 Brunei Darussalam 431
Poland 511 Jordan2 429
New Zealand 508 Moldova, Republic of 428
Slovenia 507 Thailand2 426
United Kingdom 505 Uruguay 426
Netherlands 503 Romania2 426
Germany 503 Bulgaria2 424
Australia 503 Mexico2 419
United States 502 Qatar 419
Sweden 499 Albania 417
Belgium 499 Costa Rica2 416
Czech Republic 497 Montenegro, Republic of 415
Ireland 496 Colombia2 413
Switzerland 495 North Macedonia 413
France 493 Peru2 404
Denmark 493 Argentina 404
Portugal 492 Brazil2 404
Norway 490 Bosnia and Herzegovina 398
Austria 490 Baku (Azerbaijan)3 398
Latvia 487 Kazakhstan 397
Spain 483 Indonesia 396
Lithuania 482 Saudi Arabia 386
Hungary 481 Lebanon 384
Russian Federation 478 Georgia 383
Luxembourg 477 Morocco2 377
Iceland 475 Kosovo 365
Croatia 472 Panama2 365
Belarus 471 Philippines2 357
Ukraine 469 Dominican Republic2 336
Turkey2 468

Average score is higher than U.S. average score at the .05 level of statistical significance.

Average score is lower than U.S. average score at the .05 level of statistical significance.

1 B-S-J-Z (China) refers to the four PISA participating China provinces: Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang.

2 At least 50 percent but less than 75 percent of the 15-year-old population is covered by the PISA sample.

3 Less than 50 percent of the 15-year-old population is covered by the PISA sample.

NOTE: Education systems are ordered by 2018 average score. Scores are reported on a scale from 0 to 1,000. Italics indicate non-OECD countries and education systems. Education systems are marked as OECD countries if they were OECD members in 2018. The OECD average is the average of the national averages of the OECD member countries, with each country weighted equally. Although Vietnam participated in PISA 2018, technical problems with its data prevent results from being discussed in this indicator.

SOURCE: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), 2018. See Digest of Education Statistics 2019, table 602.70.

Average scores in science literacy in 2018 ranged from 336 in the Dominican Republic to 590 in B-S-J-Z (China). The U.S. average science score (502) was higher than the OECD average score (489). Eleven education systems had higher average science scores than did the United States, and eleven education systems had scores that were not measurably different from the U.S. score. [Other]
Figure 3. Percentage of 15-year-old students performing on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) science literacy scale, by selected proficiency levels and education system: 2018
Figure 3. Percentage of 15-year-old students performing on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) science literacy scale, by selected proficiency levels and education system: 2018

Below level 2

At or above level 5

# Rounds to zero.

! Interpret data with caution. Estimate is unstable due to high coefficient of variation (> 30 percent and ≤ 50 percent).

!! Interpret data with caution. Estimate is unstable because the standard error represents more than 50 percent of the estimate.

* p < .05. Significantly different from the U.S. percentage.

1 B-S-J-Z (China) refers to the four PISA participating China provinces: Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang.

2 At least 50 percent but less than 75 percent of the 15-year-old population is covered by the PISA sample.

3 Less than 50 percent of the 15-year-old population is covered by the PISA sample.

NOTE: Education systems are ordered by 2018 percentages of 15-year-olds in levels 5 and above. Descriptions of the skills and knowledge of students at each science proficiency level are available at https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/pisa/pisa2018/pdf/ScienceProfLevelDescriptionV2.pdf. To reach a particular proficiency level, a student must correctly answer a majority of items at that level. Students were classified into science proficiency levels according to their scores. Exact cut scores are as follows: Below Level 2 (a score less than 409.54); At or Above Level 5 is a score equal to or greater than 633.33. Scores are reported on a scale from 0 to 1,000. Italics indicate non-OECD countries and education systems. Education systems are marked as OECD countries if they were OECD members in 2018. The OECD average is the average of the national percentages of the OECD member countries, with each country weighted equally. Although Vietnam participated in PISA 2018, technical problems with its data prevent results from being discussed in this indicator.

SOURCE: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), 2018. See Digest of Education Statistics 2019, table 602.70.

PISA reports science literacy in terms of seven proficiency levels, with level 1b being the lowest and level 6 being the highest. Descriptions of the skills and knowledge of students at each science proficiency level can be found here. Students scoring at proficiency levels 5 and 6 can apply scientific knowledge in a variety of complex real-life situations. The percentage of U.S. students who were top performers in science literacy (9 percent) was larger than the OECD average percentage (7 percent). Percentages of top performers ranged from nearly 0 percent in 18 education systems to 32 percent in B-S-J-Z (China). Ten education systems had larger percentages of top performers in science literacy than did the United States. [Other]
The percentage of U.S. students who were low performers in science literacy (19 percent) was smaller than the OECD average percentage (22 percent). Percentages of low performers ranged from 2 percent in B-S-J-Z (China) to 85 percent in the Dominican Republic. Twelve education systems had smaller percentages of low performers in science literacy than did the United States. [Other]

1 Although Spain’s PISA 2018 data meet international technical standards, its reading literacy data show unusual student response behavior that prevent them from being reported at this time. Although Vietnam participated in PISA 2018, technical problems with its data prevent results from being discussed. Therefore, results are presented for 77 education systems for reading literacy and 78 education systems for mathematics and science literacy.

2 For the purposes of this indicator, “education systems” refer to all entities participating in PISA, including countries as well as subnational entities (e.g., cities or provinces).

Supplemental Information

Table 602.50 (Digest 2019): Average reading literacy scores of 15-year-old students and percentage attaining reading literacy proficiency levels, by country or other education system: 2018;
Table 602.60 (Digest 2019): Average mathematics literacy scores of 15-year-old students and percentage attaining mathematics literacy proficiency levels, by country or other education system: 2018;
Table 602.70 (Digest 2019): Average science literacy scores of 15-year-old students and percentage attaining science literacy proficiency levels, by country or other education system: 2018
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Suggested Citation

National Center for Education Statistics. (2022). International Comparisons: Reading, Mathematics, and Science Literacy of 15-Year-Old Students. Condition of Education. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences. Retrieved [date], from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator/cnu.