Performance on the Combined Reading Literacy Scale
U.S. 15-year-olds had an average score of 500 on the combined reading literacy scale. This was not measurably different from the OECD average score (493). Compared to the 33 other OECD countries, 6 had higher average scores than the United States (Korea, Finland, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, and Australia), 13 had lower average scores, and 14 had average scores not measurably different from the U.S. average. Compared to all other 64 countries and education systems, 9 had higher average scores than the United States, 39 had lower average scores, and 16 had average scores not measurably different from the U.S. average.
Performance of U.S. Students on the Reading Literacy Subscales
Since reading literacy was the major subject area for the 2009 cycle of PISA, results are shown for the combined reading literacy scale as well as for the three reading literacy subscales that describe reading aspects, or processes: accessing and retrieving information, integrating and interpreting, and reflecting and evaluating.
On the reflect and evaluate subscale, U.S. 15-year-olds had a higher average score than the OECD average. The U.S. average was lower than that of 5 OECD countries and higher than that of 23 OECD countries. Among all other 64 countries and education systems, 8 had higher average scores and 51 had lower average scores than the United States. On the other two subscales—access and retrieve and integrate and interpret—the U.S. average was not measurably different from the OECD average.
Along with scale scores, PISA 2009 also uses seven proficiency levels (levels 1b through 6, with level 1b being the lowest and level 6 the highest) to describe student performance in reading literacy. An additional category (below level 1b) includes students whose skills are not developed sufficiently to be described by PISA.
In reading literacy, 30 percent of U.S. students scored at or above proficiency level 4—not measurably different than the percentage of students in the OECD countries on average who performed at or above level 4. At level 4 students are described by PISA as capable of "difficult reading tasks" and "critically evaluating" a text. Eighteen percent of U.S. students scored below level 2 in reading literacy—not measurably different from the percentage of students in the OECD countries on average who demonstrated proficiency below level 2. Below level 2 students may not be able to consistently "recognize the main idea in a text unless it is prominent" or to consistently "make valid comparisons or contrasts" based on even a single feature in the text.
Trends in Performance in Reading Literacy
There was no measurable difference between the average score of U.S. students in reading literacy in 2000 and 2009 or between 2003 and 2009. There were no measurable differences between the U.S. average score and the OECD average score in 2000 or in 2009.
Differences in Performance by Selected Student and School Characteristics
Gender. Female students scored higher, on average, than male students on the combined reading literacy scale in all 65 participating countries and other education systems. In the United States, the difference was smaller than the difference in the OECD countries, on average, and smaller than the differences in 24 OECD countries and 21 non-OECD countries and other education systems.
Race/Ethnicity. The results include the performance of students by race/ethnicity for the United States only. In reading literacy, White (non-Hispanic) and Asian (non-Hispanic) students had higher average scores than the overall OECD and U.S. average scores, while Black (non-Hispanic) and Hispanic students had lower average scores than the overall OECD and U.S. average scores. The average scores of students who reported two or more races were not measurably different from the overall OECD or U.S. average scores.
School Socio-economic Contexts. The results for the United States also include the performance of students in different categories of public schools according to the percentage of enrollment eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, a proxy indicator of the socioeconomic composition of the school. Students in public schools in which half or more of students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (FRPL-eligible) scored, on average, below the overall OECD and U.S. average scores in reading literacy. Students in public schools in which less than 25 percent of students were FRPL-eligible scored, on average, above the overall OECD and U.S. average scores.