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Indicator 9. Change in 15-Year-Olds' Reading, Mathematics, and Science Literacy by Sex

Fifteen-year-old females outperformed their male peers on the PISA reading literacy scale in every G-8 country with data reported in 2000 and 2009, while males outperformed females in mathematics literacy in most G-8 countries in 2003 and 2009. In science literacy, the performance pattern of males and females was not consistent across the G-8 countries in 2006 and 2009, although when differences occurred they favored males.

This indicator reports on change in performance in reading, mathematics, and science literacy by sex. 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 both 2000 and 2009, 15-year-old females had higher scores, on average, than their male peers on the reading literacy scale in every G-8 country with data reported10 (figure 9-1). In 2000, the male-female differences in score points on the reading literacy scale ranged from 29 points in the United States and France to 38 points in the Russian Federation and Italy. In 2009, the male- female differences ranged from 25 points in the United States and the United Kingdom to 46 points in Italy. While the U.S. male-female difference in score points in 2000 did not differ measurably from that in any other G-8 country with data reported, in 2009 it was smaller than that in Italy, the Russian Federation, France, Germany, and Canada. In both 2003 and 2009, 15-year-old males had higher scores, on average, than their female peers on the PISA mathematics literacy scale in most G-8 countries with data reported. Excep- tions included Japan (where there was no measurable difference between the scores of males and females in 2003 and 2009) and the Russian Federation (where there was no measurable difference between the scores of males and females in 2009).

In 2003, male-female score differences on the mathematics literacy scale were between 6 and 11 points in all G-8 countries with data reported except Italy, which had a difference of 18 points. In 2009, male-female score differences were between 12 and 20 points in most G-8 countries (the Russian Federation and Japan were exceptions, where there were no measurable male-female differences). In the United States, males scored higher than females by 6 points in 2003 and by 20 points in 2009.

In science literacy, the performance pattern of 15-year-old males and females was not consistent across the G-8 countries in 2006 and 2009, although when differences occurred they favored males. In 2006, the only measurable difference between males and females on the science literacy scale was in the United Kingdom, where males outperformed females by 10 points. In 2009, the only measurable differences were a 5-point difference favoring males in Canada, a 9-point difference favoring males in the United Kingdom, and a 14-point difference favoring males in the United States. The United States was the only G-8 country with a measurable change in the performance difference of males and females in science literacy, where it was larger in 2009 than in 2006.

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.

For information about how reading literacy, mathematics literacy, and science literacy are defined in PISA and for more information about the reporting scales used in PISA and the measurement of change, see the Definitions and Methodology section of indicator 8.

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