PISA Results

Today is PISA day (no, not the leaning tower although, having lived there, it's great).  That's the day when the results of the international test (the Program of International Student Assessment) are announced.  (It's given every three years to 15-year olds around the globe and where we get our hair-pulling upset over US students versus students in other countries).  The Answer Sheet has the U.S. breakout stats.  Guess where the U.S. ended up?  In the middle.

As Diane Ravitch points out, this has been going on since the U.S. started taking this test in the early '60s.  And, since that time, the U.S. has grown into the strongest, most innovative economy in the world.

I'm not saying the scores are great; they aren't.  But the hand-wringing is somewhat overwrought.

The U.S. actually did better in science than math which isn't something I would have predicted.   I am surprised that the U.S. doesn't do better in reading where we scores about average.  Massachusetts continues to lead the way in scoring for the U.S. and was only outperformed in reading by three countries.

The Answer Sheet compared Massachusetts scores with Florida scores because Massachusetts is at the top end of spending per student (over $14k) and Florida is near the bottom (at less than $9k).

One commenter at the AS nails it:

My own two cents, we have two school systems in this country - one for poor kids and one for middle class and up kids. The poor kids test poorly. The middle class and up kids don't and many of them are the best students in the world. 

As well:

Shanghai -a country smaller and less populated than our state of California is the country at the top
of the class PISA list. Shanghai has mandatory education for 9 years - do the math. Only the best students are left in school in Shanghai when the PISA test is administered. In California 28% of the population speaks Spanish as their primary language- the same language that was primary when the border changed and the land was annexed by the US. Over 30% of Californians speak a different primary language. There are only .5% registered foreigners in Shanghai. Reality check that by taking a standardized test in a foreign language.  (Editor's note; yes, Shanghai is NOT a country but the commenter goes on to say that comparing the US with a city is wrong.)

Diane Ravitch points to Yong Zhao's post (he was educated in China but is now at the University of Oregon):

 In this post, he reveals some inside information about PISA: Finland has slipped out of the top tier. He says this is not because the quality of education declined in Education in Finland slipped but because so many test-centric Asian nations (and cities) participated. 

He writes:
“While the Finns are right to be concerned about their education, it would be a huge mistake to believe that their education has gotten worse. Finland’s slip in the PISA ranking has little to do with what Finland has or has not done. It has been pushed down by others. In other words, Finland’s education quality as measured by the PISA may have not changed at all and remains strong, but the introduction of other education systems that are even better at taking tests has made Finland appear worse than it really is.”

And then he says this:

The recipe for the East Asian success is actually not that magical. It includes all the elements that have been identified as the symptoms of the GERM (Global Education Reform Movement) by the great Finnish education scholar Pasi Sahlberg: Competition, Standardization, Frequent Testing, and Privatization. In East Asian high PISA performing systems, these ingredients are more effectively combined and carried out to an extreme to result in entire societies devoted to ensure that their youngsters become excellent test takers.  

“While the East Asian systems may enjoy being at the top of international tests, they are not happy at all with the outcomes of their education. They have recognized the damages of their education for a long time and have taken actions to reform their systems. Recently, the Chinese government again issued orders to lesson student academic burden by reducing standardized tests and written homework in primary schools. The Singaporeans have been working reforming its curriculum and examination systems. The Koreans are working on implementing a “free semester” for the secondary students. Eastern Asian parents are willing and working hard to spend their life’s savings finding spots outside these “best” education systems. Thus international schools, schools that follow the less successful Western education model, have been in high demand and continue to grow in East Asia. Tens of thousands of Chinese and Korean parents send their children to study in Australia, the U.K., Canada, and the U.S. It is no exaggeration to say that that the majority of the parents in China would send their children to an American school instead of keeping them in the “best performing” Chinese system, if they had the choice.”

Update: Graph showing poverty and PISA 2012 scores from School Finance 101. 

From authors Richard Rothstein and Martin Carnoy (via The Answer Sheet):

Today, threats to the nation’s future prosperity come much less from flaws in our education system than from insufficiently stimulative fiscal policies which tolerate excessive unemployment, wasting much of the education our young people have acquired; an outdated infrastructure: regulatory and tax policies that reward speculation more than productivity; an over-extended military; declining public investment in research and innovation; a wasteful and inefficient health care system; and the fact that typical workers and their families, no matter how well educated, do not share in the fruits of productivity growth as they once did. The best education system we can imagine can’t succeed if we ignore these other problems. 


Anonymous said…
Poland has a high poverty rate and it kicked the US.


Some education reform, combined with addressing the needs of children living in poverty, is needed if we do not want the next generation to flame out internationally.

Newly Reformed
Anonymous said…
What is Poland's poverty rate?


What is US poverty rate?

Still stuck at 15%
(Check your own sources)

Seriously, I rather debate college football ranking?

Greg Linden said…
I've been looking at this and trying to figure something out. The US overview says, "Socio-economic background has a significant impact on student performance in the United
States, with some 15% of the variation in student performance explained by this."

Can anyone find the list of what percentage of the variation in student performance in the US is caused by different factors? I was unclear if 15% is large or small, and what other factors were substantial, and would like to see that, but I wasn't able to find it. Anyone else have more luck?
Anonymous said…
The childhood poverty rate in Poland is 9%. http://beyondthetransition.blogspot.com/2012/08/some-notes-on-poverty-in-poland.html
The childhood poverty rate in the US is 22%. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-09-17/poverty-in-u-s-remains-high-with-incomes-stagnant-census-says.html

Poverty has such an enormous effect on learning ability (I am done googling for the day- but do you all remember the study from a few months ago about how the effects of living poverty are so stressful that they decrease IQ? There is no amount of ed reform or small class size that can have any effect if a kid is so stressed they can't think at school) that I can't consider these results useful unless they are comparing like vs like in this respect. How do we do compared to Romania and Latvia (our peers in childhood poverty rate- now that is something to be deeply ashamed of. Not how our entire, diverse student population does on a standardized test compared to upper middle class European kids). Certainly not Finland, which on top of being a socialist paradise with almost no poverty (not kidding- would love to live there) has tracked out its weakest students by the time they take this test, and concentrated its brightest students into language immersion schools.

Anonymous said…
I like looking at UNDP's human development index (HDI) which looks at long term progress in 3 basic human developments

1. A long and healthy life (life expectancy)
2. Access to knowledge (mean years of schooling for adult population & expected years of schooling school entrance age children will receive)
3. Decent standard of living

For Poland-


For USA and the rest of the world:


We look good at #3. Woohoo. BUT.... To analyze, look at the numbers behind inequality, education, & health (just click on the highlights, play around). Surprise. You don't want to be in the BUT category.

(I'm making the whole family read Gibbon over Xmas break if Auburn makes #1)

n said…
Chris Hayes dicussed these results tonight and had some intereting stats to share. Don't have them handy but there is a lot more to it than meets the eye. According to Chris and his guests, we are at about the same level As I recall the big item was that other countries are educating a lower percentage of their population. We try to educate everyone.

Anyway, the numbers are always skewed to make us look bad. Sorry if that sounds cynical but that's my perception. At least ever since the reform movement and the venture capitalists entered the picture.
n said…
Diane Ravitch on PISA


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