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PISA RESULTS: U.S. Slips in International Reading, Science, and Mathematics Rankings According to Latest Results from Programme for International Student Assessment

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“In a global economy, success is no longer measured against national standards alone, but against the best-performing and most rapidly improving education systems," said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría.

Released December 3, the results of the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) show that American fifteen-year-olds ranked seventeenth in reading, twentieth in science, and twenty-seventh in mathematics among the thirty-four countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD).Those rankings are lower than in the previous PISA given in 2009 when the United States ranked fourteenth in reading, seventeenth in science, and twenty-fifth in mathematics.

Like traditional tests, PISA, which consists of multiple-choice and open-ended questions, tests students on what they have learned, but it goes one step further by also asking students to extrapolate what they have learned and apply that knowledge in unfamiliar settings, both in and outside of school. The thirty-four OECD member countries and thirty-one partner countries and economies that participated in PISA in 2012 represent more than 80 percent of the world economy.

“More and more countries are looking beyond their own borders for evidence of the most successful and efficient policies and practices,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. “Indeed, in a global economy, success is no longer measured against national standards alone, but against the best-performing and most rapidly improving education systems. … By identifying the characteristics of high-performing education systems, PISA allows governments and educators to identify effective policies that they can then adapt to their local contexts.”

As shown in the table below, the United States, with a mean score of 481, ranks twenty-seventh out of thirty-four OECD countries in math performance—below the OECD average (494) and far behind top-performers Korea (554), Japan (536), and Switzerland (531), as well as Canada (518). Not included in the table are the thirty-one partner countries and economies that also took PISA, many of which performed better than the United States, including Shanghai-China (613), Singapore (573), and Hong Kong–China (561). When including these countries, the U.S. ranking slides down to thirty-six out of sixty-five.

PISA 2012: Mean Math Scores Among OECD Member Nations

Country

Mean Score

Country

Mean Score

Korea

554

OECD Average

494

Japan

536

United Kingdom

494

Switzerland

531

Iceland

493

Netherlands

523

Luxembourg

490

Estonia

521

Norway

489

Finland

519

Portugal

487

Canada

518

Italy

485

Poland

518

Spain

484

Belgium

515

Slovak Republic

482

Germany

514

United States

481

Austria

506

Sweden

478

Australia

504

Hungary

477

Ireland

501

Israel

466

Slovenia

501

Greece

453

Denmark

500

Turkey

448

New Zealand

500

Chile

423

Czech Republic

499

Mexico

413

France

495

In reading, the United States’s mean score (498), beat the OECD average (496), but fell far behind top-performers such as Shanghai-China (570), Hong Kong–China (545), Singapore (542), Japan (538), and Korea (536). Canada (523) was the highest-performing country in North America.

In science, the United States’s mean score (497) trailed the OECD average (501), as well as those of top performers Shanghai-China (580), Hong Kong–China (555), Singapore (551), Japan (547), and Finland (545). Again, Canada (525) was the highest-performing country in North America.

For the first time, three U.S. states—Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Florida—independently participated in PISA. In math, Massachusetts (514) and Connecticut (506) posted mean scores higher than the OECD average and that of the United States as whole while Florida (467) trailed both.

The complete PISA results are available at http://www.oecd.org/pisa/keyfindings/pisa-2012-results-overview.pdf.

Highlights for the United States are available at http://www.oecd.org/pisa/keyfindings/PISA-2012-results-US.pdf.



1 The thirty-four OCED countries are Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israël, Italy, Japan, Korea, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, and United States.

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