Skip Navigation
  1. PISA
  2. PISA Results
  3. PISA Past Results
  4. PISA 2003 Results

Differences in Performance by Selected Student Characteristic


Males outperformed females in mathematics literacy in the United States and in two-thirds of the other countries (figure 10). Within the United States, greater percentages of male students performed at level 6 (the highest level) than female students 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 (figure 10). 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 (data not shown). In 2003, the relationship between socioeconomic background and student performance in mathematics literacy was stronger in 5 countries (Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, and Poland) than in the United States, while 11 countries had weaker relationships. Three of the same five countries (Belgium, Germany, and Hungary) had stronger relationships between socioeconomic background and problem-solving performance than the United States, while 12 had weaker relationships.


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 11). 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.

SOURCE: Lemke, M., Sen, A., Pahlke, E., Partelow, L., Miller, D., Williams, T., Kastberg, D., Jocelyn, L. (2004). International Outcomes of Learning in Mathematics Literacy and Problem Solving: PISA 2003 Results From the U.S. Perspective. (NCES 2005003). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.

A copy of the PISA 2003 Highlights suitable for printing is also available.