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Education Statistics Quarterly
Vol 6, Issue 4, Topic: Featured Topic: International Assessments
International Outcomes of Learning in Mathematics Literacy and Problem Solving: PISA 2003 Results From the U.S. Perspective
By: Mariann Lemke, Anindita Sen, Erin Pahlke, Lisette Partelow, David Miller, Trevor Williams, David Kastberg, and Leslie Jocelyn
 
This article was originally published as the Summary of the Statistical Analysis Report of the same name. The sample survey data are from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).  
 
 

Introduction to PISA

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a system of international assessments that measures 15-year-olds' capabilities in reading literacy, mathematics literacy, and science literacy every 3 years. PISA was first implemented in 2000 and is carried out by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental organization of industrialized countries. Each PISA data collection effort assesses one subject area in depth, even as all three are assessed in each cycle so that participating countries have an ongoing source of achievement data in every subject area. In addition to the major subject areas of reading literacy, mathematics literacy, and science literacy, PISA also measures general or cross-curricular competencies such as learning strategies. In this second cycle, PISA 2003, mathematics literacy was the subject area assessed in depth, along with the new cross-curricular area of problem solving. Major findings for 2003 in mathematics literacy and problem solving are provided here, as well as brief discussions of student performance in reading literacy and science literacy and changes in performance between 2000 and 2003. Table A shows the countries that participated in PISA in 2000 and 2003.


U.S. Performance in Mathematics Literacy and Problem Solving

In 2003, U.S. performance in mathematics literacy and problem solving was lower than the average performance for most OECD countries (table B). The United States also performed below the OECD average on each mathematics literacy subscale representing a specific content area (space and shape, change and relationships, quantity, and uncertainty). This is somewhat different from the PISA 2000 results, when reading literacy was the major subject area, which showed the United States performing at the OECD average (Lemke et al. 2001).

Along with scale scores, PISA 2003 also uses six proficiency levels (levels 1 through 6, with level 6 being the highest level of proficiency) to describe student performance in mathematics literacy and three proficiency levels (levels 1 through 3, with level 3 being the highest level of proficiency) to describe student performance in problem solving. In mathematics literacy, the United States had greater percentages of students below level 1 and at levels 1 and 2 than the OECD average percentages (figure A). The United States also had lower percentages of students at levels 4, 5, and 6 than the OECD average percentages. Results for each of the four mathematics content areas followed a similar pattern. In problem solving, the United States also had greater percentages of students below level 1 and at level 1 than the OECD average percentages, and lower percentages of students at levels 2 and 3 than the OECD average percentages (figure B).

This is also somewhat different from the PISA 2000 reading literacy results, which showed that while the percentages of U.S. students performing at level 1 and below were not measurably different from the OECD averages, the United States had a greater percentage of students performing at the highest level (level 5) compared to the OECD average (Lemke et al. 2001). In mathematics literacy and problem solving in 2003, even the highest U.S. achievers (those in the top 10 percent in the United States) were outperformed on average by their OECD counterparts.

There were no measurable changes in the U.S. scores from 2000 to 2003 on either the space and shape subscale or the change and relationships subscale, the only content areas for which trend data from 2000 to 2003 are available. In both 2000 and 2003, about two-thirds of the other participating OECD countries outperformed the United States in these content areas.

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U.S. Performance in Reading Literacy and Science Literacy

The U.S. average score in reading literacy was not measurably different from the OECD average in 2000 or 2003, nor was there any measurable change in the U.S. reading literacy score from 2000 to 2003.

The U.S. score was below the OECD average science literacy score in 2003. There was no measurable change in the U.S. science literacy score from 2000 to 2003.

Table A. Participation in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), by country: 2000 and 2003

Table A. Participation in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), by country: 2000 and 2003
1Due to low response rates, PISA 2000 data for the Netherlands are not discussed in this report. For information on the results for the Netherlands, see OECD (2001). Knowledge and Skills for Life: First Results From the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment. Paris: Author.

2Due to low response rates, PISA 2003 data for the United Kingdom are not discussed in this report.

3Although Brazil participated in PISA 2003, its data were not available in time for production of this report.

NOTE: A "" indicates that the country participated in PISA in the specific year. Because PISA is principally an OECD study, non-OECD countries are displayed separately from the OECD countries.

SOURCE: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), 2000 and 2003. (Originally published as table 1 on p. 1 of the complete report from which this article is excerpted.)

Table B. Average combined mathematics literacy scores and problem-solving scores of 15-year-old students, by country: 2003

Table B. Average combined mathematics literacy scores and problem-solving scores of 15-year-old students, by country: 2003
NOTE: Statistical comparisons between the U.S. average and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) average take into account the contribution of the U.S. average toward the OECD average. The OECD average is the average of the national averages of the OECD member countries with data available. Because the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is principally an OECD study, the results for non-OECD countries are displayed separately from those of the OECD countries and are not included in the OECD average. Due to low response rates, data for the United Kingdom are not discussed in this report.

SOURCE: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), 2003. (Taken from tables 2 and 3 on pp. 14-15 and p. 29 of the complete report from which this article is excerpted.)


Figure A. Percentage distribution of 15-year-old students in the OECD countries and the United States on the combined mathematics literacy scale, by proficiency level: 2003

Figure A. Percentage distribution of 15-year-old students in the OECD countries and the United States on the combined mathematics literacy scale, by proficiency level: 2003
NOTE: In order to reach a particular proficiency level, a student must have been able to correctly answer a majority of items at that level. Students were classified into mathematics literacy levels according to their scores. Exact cut point scores are as follows: below level 1 (a score less than or equal to 357.77); level 1 (a score greater than 357.77 and less than or equal to 420.07); level 2 (a score greater than 420.07 and less than or equal to 482.38); level 3 (a score greater than 482.38 and less than or equal to 544.68); level 4 (a score greater than 544.68 and less than or equal to 606.99); level 5 (a score greater than 606.99 and less than or equal to 669.3); level 6 (a score greater than 669.3). The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) average is the average of the national averages of the OECD member countries with data available. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding.

SOURCE: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), 2003. (Originally published as figure 5 on p. 19 of the complete report from which this article is excerpted.)


Figure B. Percentage distribution of 15-year-old students in the OECD countries and the United States on the problem-solving scale, by proficiency level: 2003

Figure B. Percentage distribution of 15-year-old students in the OECD countries and the United States on the problem-solving scale, by proficiency level: 2003
NOTE: In order to reach a particular proficiency level, a student must have been able to correctly answer a majority of items at that level. Students were classified into problem-solving levels according to their scores. Exact cut point scores are as follows: below level 1 (a score less than or equal to 404.06); level 1 (a score greater than 404.06 and less than or equal to 498.08); level 2 (a score greater than 498.08 and less than or equal to 592.10); level 3 (a score greater than 592.10). The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) average is the average of the national averages of the OECD member countries with data available. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding.

SOURCE: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), 2003. (Originally published as figure 8 on p. 32 of the complete report from which this article is excerpted.)

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Differences in Performance by Selected Student Characteristics

Sex

Males outperformed females in mathematics literacy in the United States and in two-thirds of the other countries. Within the United States, greater percentages of male students than female students performed at level 6 (the highest level) in mathematics literacy, but larger percentages of females were not seen at lower levels (below level 1 and levels 1 through 5). In other words, differences in the overall scores between males and females in the United States were due at least in part to the fact that a higher percentage of males were found among the highest performers, not to a higher percentage of females found among the lowest performers.

In the majority of the PISA 2003 countries (32 out of 39 countries), including the United States, there were no measurable differences in problem-solving scores by sex. However, females outscored their male peers in problem solving in six of the seven remaining participating countries, as well as at the OECD average. Males outscored females in problem solving in Macao-China.

Socioeconomic background

In 2003, a few countries showed stronger relationships between socioeconomic background (as measured by parental occupational status) and student performance than the United States, while more showed weaker relationships. In 2003, the relationship between socioeconomic background and student performance in mathematics literacy was strong-er in 5 countries (Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, and Poland) than in the United States, while 11 countries had weaker relationships. Three of the same 5 countries (Belgium, Germany, and Hungary) had stronger relationships between socioeconomic background and problem-solving performance than the United States, while 12 had weaker relationships.

Race/ethnicity

In the United States in PISA 2003, Blacks and Hispanics scored lower on average than Whites, Asians, and students of more than one race in mathematics literacy and problem solving (figure C). Hispanic students, in turn, outscored Black students. In both mathematics literacy and problem solving, the average scores for Blacks and Hispanics were below the OECD average scores, while scores for Whites were above the OECD average scores.

Figure C. Average scores of U.S. 15-year-old students on the combined mathematics literacy scale and in problem solving, by race/ethnicity: 2003

Figure C. Average scores of U.S. 15-year-old students on the combined mathematics literacy scale and in problem solving, by  race/ethnicity: 2003
*Average is significantly different from OECD average.

NOTE: Reporting standards not met for American Indian/Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander. Black includes African American and Hispanic includes Latino. Racial categories exclude Hispanic origin.

SOURCE: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), 2003. (Originally published as fi gure 11 on p. 38 of the complete report from which this article is excerpted.)

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Reference

Lemke, M., Calsyn, C., Lippman, L., Jocelyn, L., Kastberg, D., Liu, Y.Y., Roey, S., Williams, T., Kruger, T., and Bairu, G. (2001). Outcomes of Learning: Results From the 2000 Program for International Student Assessment of 15-Year-Olds in Reading, Mathematics, and Science Literacy (NCES 2002-115). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Data source: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Program for International Student Assessment, 2000 and 2003.

For technical information, see the complete report:

Lemke, M., Sen, A., Pahlke, E., Partelow, L., Miller, D., Williams, T., Kastberg, D., and Jocelyn, L. (2004). International Outcomes of Learning in Mathematics Literacy and Problem Solving: PISA 2003 Results From the U.S. Perspective (NCES 2005-003).

Author affiliations: M. Lemke, NCES; A. Sen, E. Pahlke, L. Partelow, and D. Miller, Education Statistics Services Institute; T. Williams, D. Kastberg, and L. Jocelyn, Westat.

For questions about content, contact Mariann Lemke (mariann.lemke@ed.gov).

To obtain the complete report (NCES 2005-003), call the toll-free ED Pubs number (877-433-7827) or visit the NCES Electronic Catalog (http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch).


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