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Welcome to the David Victor Vector blog. This is blog that covers religious observances around the world international affairs and global business. This blog describes religious holidays for most major religions as well as raising issues dealing with globalization, international business ethics, cross-cultural business communication and political events affecting business in an integrated world economy. I look forward your discussion and commentary on these articles and subjects. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The PISA International Education Assessment Report

Big news in global education competitiveness arrived with today's much-anticipated release of the 2012 PISA (Program for International Assessment) results.

The PISA tests were run by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) covering the performance of 15-year-olds in math, science and reading literacy. According to the report,
"Around 510 000 students between the ages of 15 years 3 months and 16 years 2 months completed the assessment in 2012, representing about 28 million 15-year-olds in the schools of the 65 participating countries and economies."
The 2012 report, it should be noted, is counting Shanghai as a separate economy, so there are really only 64 separate nations (counting Hong Kong and Macau as separate as well). China itself was not surveyed as a whole.

The survey covered all 34 members of the OECD as well as 31 non-OECD members.The nations are shown on the map below and listed in the box below.

PISA Participating Countries


Overall, the state of world education is improving -- at least as far as test scores indicate for those nations assessed. Of the 65 participating countries, 25 improved over previous years as an average across all three area. For reading literacy, the results are even more notable with 32 nations showing improvement over previous years.

Only one nation -- Poland -- was able to increase for all three categories its share of students falling in the highest performing category while reducing their share of students among the lowest performing category.

Still, in math, three nations -- Italy, Poland and Portugal -- were able to increase their share of students falling in the highest performing category while reducing their share of students among the lowest performing category.

Likewise in reading literacy three nations -- Albania, Israel and Poland -- were able to increase their share of students falling in the highest performing category while reducing their share of students among the lowest performing category.

In science, six nations -- Estonia, Israel, Italy, Poland, Qatar and Singapore -- were able to increase their share of students falling in the highest performing category while reducing their share of students among the lowest performing category.


Shanghai was tested as a separate entity. It ranked at the the top in all categories. Shanghai's mean score was 613. This was 119 points higher than the OECD average (an equivalent different of three years education).

Of note, the PRC as a whole did not participate. Only Shanghai was tested within the Mainland, while the separate entities of Hong Kong and Macau were included independently.

The top 10 performers for 2012 in each category included seven that were in the top ten in all three categories: Canada, Finland, Hong Kong, Japan, Shanghai, Singapore and South Korea. 

The Top 10 PISA Performers, 2012

 Bottom 5 PISA Performers, 2012

The worst performing participating nation was Peru, ranking 65th of 65 in all three categories.  The five worst-performing participating nations were Jordan (61), Colombia (62), Qatar (63), Indonesia (64) and -- as mentioned already--  Peru rounding off the very bottom. The bottom five jockeyed for position of worst in the different areas. For example, Colombia and Qatar tied for third worst math score with Indonesia as the second worst math score but both Colombia and Indonesia outperformed Qatar in reading scores, and so on as the chart below shows.

Bottom 5 PISA Performers, 2012

 Stagnant US PISA Results 2012

As for the US, the news was not so good. While most nations improved -- many dramatically so -- the US average in all three fields (math, science and reading literacy) remained unchanged from each of the last three assessments. In other words, the United States has had virtually the same performance (we're consistent at least) each year. To quote the US summary:

"The U.S. average mathematics, science, and reading literacy scores in 2012 were not measurably different from average scores in previous PISA assessment years with which comparisons can be made (2003, 2006 and 2009 for mathematics; 2006, and 2009 for science; and 2000, 2003, and 2009 for reading)"

Among OECD nations, the rankings are equally distressing with regard to the United States. For math in particular, the scores are grim. The US ranked 26 out of 34 with 1/4 of US students unable to get beyond the lowest (of 6) levels. For science, the US ranked 21 out of 34 in the OECD. For reading the US did better, ranking 17 out of 34 (still below but nonetheless nearer the OECD average).

Despite political arguments over cutting educational resources in the United States, the PISA report showed that the United States ranked fifth in spending per student from the ages of 6-15 among the 65 nations participating. Only Austria, Luxembourg, Norway and Switzerland spend more per student than does the United States. To put this in comparison, consider that the United States and the Slovak Republic ranked nearly the same in the PISA results. The Slovak Republic, however, cumulatively spends only $53,000 per student from 6-15 while the United States spends cumulatively over twice that amount per student from 6-15 at $115,000.

Regional PISA Result Differences

Significant regional differences within countries were noted as well. For example, in Italy math scores for the nation as a whole were 485, below the OECD mean average of 494. However, when broken into regions, the story was different.

When considered separately, Trento (at 524) and Friuli Venezia Giulia and the Vento (both at 523) had among the highest mean averages worldwide By contrast Sardina (at 458), Campania (at 453) and Sicily (at 447) were far below the OECD math average of 494.

Similarly, the US overall score of 481 in math was below the OECD average, but when Massachusetts was considered independently, the state ranked among the world leaders at 514 (tied with Germany as a nation).


For those wanting to read the report themselves, please go to the links below.

The PISA 2012 link on the OECD main site is at: http://www.oecd.org/pisa/keyfindings/pisa-2012-results.htm 

Also, many nations have their own summary links. Here, for instance, is the US summary link: http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/pisa/pisa2012/

Finally, in closing, it should be noted that the PISA results do not directly correlate with economic success. The  test scores only measure test-taking ability -- and even then only in math, science and reading literacy.  The tests do not cover creative activity or innovative thinking. Both of these are traditionally considered US strong points in global competitiveness, for example, but remain unmeasurable under the current testing.

Nevertheless, the implications of the PISA report is a significant for competitiveness in an economy that increasingly requires greater education.

This was my reading of the results. Please do share your views with me and let me know what you think.

Clip Art Sources

PISA banner: http://www.oecd.org/media/oecdorg/satellitesites/pisa/33958994.GIF

PISA participant map and list: http://www.oecd.org/pisa/pisaproducts/PISA%202012%20framework%20e-book_final.pdf

Top 10 PISA table: http://www.riazhaq.com/2011/12/pisa-timss-confirm-low-quality-of.html

Bottom 5 PISA Performers table: Own compilation based on PISA report

US Flag:  http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=Printable+Pictures+of+USA+Flag&Form=IQFRDR#a


  1. Very interesting. As a Finnish-American, I try to know as much about the country of my heritage as I possibly can, and I know that there are many differences between the way Finland's educational system and ours is set up. Obviously things are working for them, as they have been within the top 5 countries (typically top 3, and often #1) ever since the PISA's inception. What do you think the possibilities of the US incorporating at least some of the tactics that Finnish schools use in order to improve our country's education system?

    1. Also, as far as countries go (excluding the Chinese cities that killed everyone), Finland beat every country again on average for math, reading, and science. This makes me proud of my heritage to be from a country that consistently has been ranked so highly (#1 again!), but disappointed that the US lags so far behind.

    2. Thanks for the comment, Henry. Actually, quite a bit has already been suggested in the US about using Finland as a model to follow. Just after the PISA results this year, for example, Fareed Zakaria specifically focused on Finland in his interview with Amanda Ripley (author of The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way) in his blog posted December 3, 2013 on CNN. You may want to read that at
      Well before that, though, in 2010, Finland's success at educational reforms came to national attention in US education circles when the National Education Association published Stanford University Education professor Linda Darling-Hammond's "What we can learn from Finland's successful school reform" (itself excerpted from her 2010 book The Flat World and Education). You may want to read that too (and her book for that matter) at:
      Let me know what you think... and thanks for commenting.

    3. I actually saw the GPS interview right when it came out (anything with Finland warrants me watching it), and I like some of what we are doing in order to model our system after theirs, but they do certain things there that are far too unconventional for us to take as part of our system here. I've been trying to think about what else we could do that would kind of work alongside those methods in order to showcase their potential more. Don't know if that makes sense, but it's just something I've been pondering.
      As for the NEA paper, I have heard of it but not actually read it. I will probably check into it, especially seeing as I am slated to be an exchange student in Finland for a semester my senior year.
      Thank you for the insight!