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Indicator 8. Change in Reading, Mathematics, and Science Literacy of 15-Year-Olds

In reading literacy, Germany was the only G-8 country with data reported that had a higher score in 2009 than in 2000 (13 points higher).

PISA data support analyses of change in student performance for reading literacy from 2000 to 2009, mathematics literacy from 2003 to 2009, and science literacy from 2006 to 2009.

In reading literacy, Germany was the only G-8 country with data reported that had a higher score in 2009 than in 2000 (13 points higher)9 (figure 8-1). In mathematics literacy, Germany's average score was 10 points higher in 2009 than in 2003, and Italy's average score was 17 points higher in 2009 than in 2003. However, in France, the average math- ematics literacy score was 14 points lower in 2009 than in 2003.

In science literacy, Italy and the United States had higher average scores in 2009 than in 2006 (13 points higher for both countries).

Definitions and Methodology

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an international assessment that measures the performance of 15-year-old students in reading literacy, mathematics literacy, and science literacy. PISA was first implemented in 2000 and is conducted every 3 years. Each PISA data collection effort assesses one of the three subject areas in depth (considered the major subject area), although all three are assessed in each cycle (the other two subjects are considered minor subject areas for that assessment year). Assessing all three areas allows participating countries to have an ongoing source of achievement data in every subject area while rotating one area as the main focus over the years. Reading was the major subject area in 2000 (and again in 2009), mathematics was the major subject area in 2003, and science was the major subject area in 2006. This sequencing provides a base for comparison with later results. For example, the mathematics reporting scale used for PISA in 2003 is directly comparable to the mathematics scales used in subsequent PISA assessments.

PISA defines reading literacy as "understanding, using, reflecting on and engaging with written texts, in order to achieve one's goals, to develop one's knowledge and potential, and to participate in society" (OECD 2009, p. 23). Scores on the PISA 2000 reading literacy scale are reported on a scale from 0 to 1,000, with the OECD average established at 500 and the standard deviation established at 100 (as reading literacy in 2000 is the base for comparison with later results). Scores on the PISA 2009 reading literacy scale are reported on a scale from 0 to 1,000, with an average score across OECD countries of 493 and a standard deviation of 93.

PISA defines mathematics literacy as "an individual's capacity to identify and understand the role that mathematics plays in the world, to make well-founded judgments and to use and engage with mathematics in ways that meet the needs of that individual's life as a constructive, concerned and reflective citizen" (OECD 2003, p. 24). Scores on the PISA 2003 mathematics literacy scale are reported on a scale from 0 to 1,000, with the OECD average established at 500 and the standard deviation established at 100 (as mathematics literacy in 2003 is the base for comparison with later results). Scores on the PISA 2009 mathematics literacy scale are reported on a scale from 0 to 1,000, with an average score across OECD countries of 496 and a standard deviation of 92. In PISA 2009, a smaller portion of the assessment was devoted to mathematics than in PISA 2003, when mathematics was the major subject area.

PISA defines science literacy as "an individual's scientific knowledge and use of that knowledge to identify questions, acquire new knowledge, explain scientific phenomena, and draw evidence-based conclusions about science-related issues; understanding of the characteristic features of science as a form of human knowledge and inquiry; awareness of how science and technology shape our material, intellectual, and cultural environments; and willingness to engage in science-related issues and with the ideas of science, as a reflective citizen" (OECD 2006, p. 23). Scores on the PISA 2006 science literacy scale are reported on a scale from 0 to 1,000, with the OECD average established at 500 and the standard deviation established at 100 (as science literacy in 2006 is the base for comparison with later results). Scores on the PISA 2009 science literacy scale are reported on a scale from 0 to 1,000, with an average score across OECD countries of 501 and a standard deviation of 94. In PISA 2009, a smaller portion of the assessment was devoted to science than in PISA 2006, when science was the major subject area.

In order to ensure that the measurement of performance by different surveys is fully comparable, some common assessment items are used in each survey. However, the limited number of such items increases the risk of measurement errors. Therefore, the confidence band for comparisons over time is wider than for single-year data, and apparent differences should be interpreted with caution. That is, normally when making comparisons between two concurrent means, the significance is indicated by calculating the ratio of the difference of the means to the standard error of the difference of the means. If the absolute value of this ratio is greater than 1.96, a true difference is indicated with 95 percent confidence. When comparing two means taken at different times, as in the different PISA surveys, an extra error term, known as the linking error, is introduced and the resulting statement of significant difference is more conservative.

In PISA, "15-year-olds" refers to students who are between 15 years and 3 months old and 16 years and 2 months old at the time of the assessment and who have completed at least 6 years of formal schooling.

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9 Although the United Kingdom participated in PISA in 2000 and 2003, low response rates prevent its results from being included.