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Spotlight 3: National and International Perspectives on School Environment and Student Learning
(Last Updated: March 2018)

The percentages of U.S. 15-year-old students who attended schools that reported that student learning was hindered by student truancy and student use of alcohol or illegal drugs were higher than the corresponding OECD average percentages in 2015. However, the percentages of U.S. students who attended schools that reported that student learning was hindered by students skipping classes, students intimidating or bullying other students, and students lacking respect for teachers were not measurably different from the corresponding OECD average percentages.

Research has found that aspects of the school environment such as levels of bullying, classmate relationships, and teacher support have an impact on students' cognitive and noncognitive outcomes, including students' social-emotional skills, attitudes about self and others, social behaviors, and academic performance (Robinson et al. 2016; Strom et al. 2013). Recognizing the importance of school environment, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and an increasing number of countries around the world have provided funding for school environment reform efforts (UNICEF 2012). Using data from the 2015 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey (the most recent administration of PISA), this spotlight presents school-reported data from across the OECD countries and in the United States on the extent to which learning is influenced by school environment. In addition, the spotlight examines the change in the extent to which learning is influenced by school environment between 2000 and 2015.14

Coordinated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), PISA has measured the performance of 15-year-old students in mathematics, science, and reading literacy every 3 years since 2000. In addition to these assessments, each administration of PISA contains student and school questionnaires, which collected information on school environment and student learning across countries. This spotlight uses PISA school questionnaires to examine two aspects of school environment: the disciplinary environment and the safety and respectfulness of the environment. The school disciplinary environment is composed of two elements: the extent to which the learning of students is hindered by (i) student truancy and (ii) student class skipping. The safety and respectfulness of the school environment is composed of three elements: the extent to which student learning is hindered by (i) student use of alcohol or illegal drugs; (ii) students intimidating or bullying other students; and (iii) students lacking respect for teachers.15

In 2015, some 46 percent of 15-year-old students in the United States attended schools that reported that student learning was hindered, to some extent or a lot, by student truancy (figure S3.1 and table S3.1). This percentage was higher than the OECD average16 (34 percent). Among the 35 OECD countries reporting these data, the percentages ranged from 10 percent in the United Kingdom to 56 percent in Canada. The percentage was higher in the United States than in 21 OECD countries and lower in the United States than in 2 OECD countries.


Figure S3.1. Percentage of 15-year-old students whose schools reported that student learning is hindered to some extent or a lot by student truancy, by Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) country: 2015

Figure S3.1. Percentage of 15-year-old students whose schools reported that student learning is hindered to some extent or a lot by student truancy, by Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) country: 2015

1 Refers to the mean of the data values for all reporting Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, to which each country reporting data contributes equally. This figure includes only the OECD countries.
2 The item response rate is below 85 percent. Missing data have not been explicitly accounted for.
NOTE: Responses to the school questionnaire were provided by the principal or someone designated by the principal.
SOURCE: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), 2015. Retrieved September 20, 2017, from the International Data Explorer (https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/pisa/idepisa/).


The 2012 and 2015 percentages of U.S. 15-year-old students who attended schools that reported that student learning was hindered by student truancy were not measurably different.17 However, among 35 OECD countries that had valid school environment data in 2012 and 2015 the percentage of students who attended schools that reported that student learning was hindered by student truancy was higher in 2015 than in 2012 in 5 countries and lower in 2015 than in 2012 in 1 country.

Students skipping classes18 is another important aspect of the school disciplinary environment. In 2015, some 31 percent of U.S. 15-year-olds attended schools that reported that student learning was hindered, to some extent or a lot, by students skipping class, which was not measurably different from the OECD average percentage (33 percent; figure S3.2 and table S3.2). Among the 35 OECD countries with valid data in 2015, the percentages ranged from 6 percent in the United Kingdom to 69 percent in the Slovak Republic. The percentage was higher in the United States than in 9 OECD countries and lower in the United States than in 9 OECD countries.


Figure S3.2. Percentage of 15-year-old students whose schools reported that student learning is hindered to some extent or a lot by students skipping classes, by Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) country: 2015

Figure S3.2. Percentage of 15-year-old students whose schools reported that student learning is hindered to some extent or a lot by students skipping classes, by Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) country: 2015

1 The item response rate is below 85 percent. Missing data have not been explicitly accounted for.
2 Refers to the mean of the data values for all reporting Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, to which each country reporting data contributes equally. This figure includes only the OECD countries.
NOTE: Responses to the school questionnaire were provided by the principal or someone designated by the principal.
SOURCE: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), 2015. Retrieved September 20, 2017, from the International Data Explorer (https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/pisa/idepisa/).


The 2000 and 2015 percentages of 15-year-old students in the United States who attended schools that reported that student learning was hindered, to some extent or a lot, by students skipping classes were not measurably different. However, among the 29 OECD countries that had valid school environment data in these two years, the percentage was higher in 2015 than in 2000 in 6 countries and lower in 2015 than in 2000 in 7 countries.

Student use of alcohol or illegal drugs can also pose a hindrance to the school learning environment. Based on school reports in 2015, some 19 percent of 15-year-old students in the United States attended schools that reported that student learning was hindered, to some extent or a lot, by student use of alcohol or illegal drugs, which was higher than the OECD average percentage (9 percent; figure S3.3 and table S3.3). Among the 32 OECD countries with valid data in 2015, the percentages ranged from 1 percent in Iceland and Japan to 28 percent in Canada. The percentage was higher in the United States than in 23 OECD countries and lower in the United States than in 1 OECD country.


Figure S3.3. Percentage of 15-year-old students whose schools reported that student learning is hindered to some extent or a lot by student use of alcohol or illegal drugs, by Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) country: 2015

Figure S3.3. Percentage of 15-year-old students whose schools reported that student learning is hindered to some extent or a lot by student use of alcohol or illegal drugs, by Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) country: 2015

! Interpret data with caution. The coefficient of variation (CV) for this estimate is between 30 and 50 percent.
‡ Reporting standards not met.
1 The item response rate is below 85 percent. Missing data have not been explicitly accounted for.
2 Refers to the mean of the data values for all reporting Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, to which each country reporting data contributes equally. This figure includes only the OECD countries.
NOTE: Responses to the school questionnaire were provided by the principal or someone designated by the principal.
SOURCE: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), 2015. Retrieved September 20, 2017, from the International Data Explorer (https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/pisa/idepisa/).


The 2000 and 2015 percentages of 15-year-old students in the United States who attended schools that reported that student learning was hindered, to some extent or a lot, by student use of alcohol or illegal drugs were not measurably different. However, among the 23 OECD countries that had valid data in both years, 5 countries had a higher percentage in 2015 than in 2000 and 4 countries had a lower percentage in 2015 than in 2000.

Students intimidating or bullying other students can hinder student learning as well. In 2015, some 14 percent of 15-year-old students in the United States attended schools that reported that student learning was hindered, to some extent or a lot, by students intimidating or bullying other students, which was not measurably different from the OECD average percentage (11 percent; figure S3.4 and table S3.4). Among the 34 OECD countries that had valid data in 2015, the percentages ranged from 2 percent in Luxembourg to 35 percent in the Netherlands.19 The percentage was higher in the United States than in 15 OECD countries and lower in the United States than in 3 OECD countries.


Figure S3.4. Percentage of 15-year-old students whose schools reported that student learning is hindered to some extent or a lot by students intimidating or bullying other students, by Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) country: 2015 

Figure S3.4. Percentage of 15-year-old students whose schools reported that student learning is hindered to some extent or a lot by students intimidating or bullying other students, by Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) country: 2015

! Interpret data with caution. The coefficient of variation (CV) for this estimate is between 30 and 50 percent.
‡ Reporting standards not met.
1 The item response rate is below 85 percent. Missing data have not been explicitly accounted for.
2 Refers to the mean of the data values for all reporting Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, to which each country reporting data contributes equally. This figure includes only the OECD countries.
NOTE: Responses to the school questionnaire were provided by the principal or someone designated by the principal.
SOURCE: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), 2015. Retrieved September 20, 2017, from the International Data Explorer (https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/pisa/idepisa/).


The 2000 and 2015 percentages of 15-year-old students in the United States who attended schools that reported that student learning was hindered, to some extent or a lot, by students intimidating or bullying other students were not measurably different. Among the 28 OECD countries that had valid data for both 2000 and 2015, the percentages in 4 OECD countries were higher in 2015 than in 2000, and the percentages in 4 other OECD countries were lower in 2015 than in 2002.

Student respect for teachers contributes to a positive school environment. In 2015, some 18 percent of 15-year-old students in the United States attended schools that reported that student learning was hindered, to some extent or a lot, by students lacking respect for teachers, which was not measurably different from the OECD average percentage (20 percent; figure S3.5 and table S3.5). Among the 35 OECD countries with valid data in 2015, the percentages ranged from 8 percent in New Zealand to 33 percent in Finland and the Republic of Korea. The percentage of students in the United States who attended schools that reported that student learning was hindered due to students lacking respect for teachers was higher than the percentages in 2 OECD countries and lower than the percentages in 5 OECD countries.


Figure S3.5. Percentage of 15-year-old students whose schools reported that student learning is hindered to some extent or a lot by students lacking respect for teachers, by Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) country: 2015 

1 The item response rate is below 85 percent. Missing data have not been explicitly accounted for.
2 Refers to the mean of the data values for all reporting Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, to which each country reporting data contributes equally. This figure includes only the OECD countries.
NOTE: Responses to the school questionnaire were provided by the principal or someone designated by the principal.
SOURCE: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), 2015. Retrieved September 20, 2017, from the International Data Explorer (https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/pisa/idepisa/).


Similar to the 2000 and 2015 percentages of 15-year-old students in the United States who attended schools that reported that student learning was hindered, to some extent or a lot, by students intimidating or bullying other students, the 2000 and 2015 percentages of U.S. 15-year-old students who attended school that reported that student learning was hindered, to some extent or a lot, by students lacking respect for teachers were not measurably different. Among the 29 OECD countries that had valid data in 2000 and 2015, the percentage was higher in 2015 than in 2000 in 5 OECD countries and lower in 2015 than in 2000 in 7 OECD countries.


This spotlight indicator features data on a selected issue of current policy interest. For more information: Tables S3.1, S3.2, S3.3, S3,4, and S3.5, and https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/pisa/index.asp.


14 School environment data were not collected in the 2006 administration of PISA.
15 The survey response options for the five items listed above were "not at all," "very little," "to some extent," and "a lot." Responses were collapsed into three categories: "Not at all," "very little," and "to some extent or a lot." All percentages of students experiencing a hindrance to learning presented in this spotlight reflect survey responses that were in the "to some extent or a lot" extent of hindrance category.
16 Refers to the mean of the data values for all reporting Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, to which each country reporting data contributes equally. In this spotlight, the term "OECD average percentage" is used synonymously with "OECD average."
17 Since 2012, the question has been "to what extent is the learning of students hindered by student truancy?" Between 2000 and 2009, this question was "to what extent is the learning of students hindered by student absenteeism?" PISA questionnaires did not define "absenteeism" and "truancy." Due to the change in question wording, earlier results are not discussed.
18 PISA questionnaires did not define "skipping classes." Generally speaking, skipping classes refers to students attending school but not going to class, while truancy is skipping school entirely.
19 The response rate for this item is below 85 percent in Netherlands in 2015. Missing data have not been explicitly accounted for.