Asia’s students storm PISA 2012

Main findings on student perforamnce

Click for main findings on student performance

Students in Asia have topped the rankings in the latest round of the OECD’s PISA programme of international student assessment. The results, released this morning, show countries and economies in Asia grabbing seven of the top 10 slots in mathematics, the focus subject of the PISA 2012 round.

Students in the Chinese city of Shanghai continued their impressive showing from PISA 2009, taking first place not just in mathematics but also reading and science, the two other core subjects tested by PISA.

The strength of their performance in mathematics, especially, is striking: In effect, the city’s 15-year-olds scored the equivalent of nearly three years of schooling above students in most OECD countries. Not only that, more than half of them – or around 55% – performed at the highest levels in maths, compared to an average in OECD countries of around one in eight students.

Of course, Shanghai is not China – a distinction that tends to get lost in coverage of the PISA results. The city is the wealthiest in China, and the life experience and education of its young residents are a long way removed of those of young Chinese in, say, rural areas. (That said, unpublished results from the PISA 2009 assessments in other parts of China showed a  “remarkable performance,” according to the OECD’s Andreas Schleicher, who runs PISA.)

Shanghai’s students have also benefited from the city’s bold efforts to reform its schools. The result, according to The New York Times’ Tom Friedman, “is a relentless focus on all the basics that we know make for high-performing schools … These are: a deep commitment to teacher training, peer-to-peer learning and constant professional development, a deep involvement of parents in their children’s learning, an insistence by the school’s leadership on the highest standards and a culture that prizes education and respects teachers.”

But while Shanghai should not be read as representative of China, its strong performance in maths is in line with that of many of the other Asian economies in PISA. Undoubtedly, some will turn to wider cultural explanations for this phenomenon. However, the impressive performance of Asian economies like Singapore and Korea across the range of subjects examined in PISA suggests other factors may be at work within education systems.

Chief among these, according to the OECD, is how these countries and economies approach teaching: “Top performers, notably in Asia, place great emphasis on selecting and training teachers, encourage them to work together and prioritise investment in teacher quality, not classroom sizes,” the organisation said in a press statement. “They also set clear targets and give teachers autonomy in the classroom to achieve them.”

Useful links

Today sees the release of a special data tool designed to let users explore the performance of individual countries as well as many of the key issues examined by PISA. These include how boys and girls do, the impact of social background, and the role of students’ self-belief and motivation.

Here’s a sampling of some of the ways in which you can explore PISA 2012.

  • Main findings, country-related content and video streams can be accessed at PISA 2012.
  • You can also find a useful overview (pdf) of the main results as well as a snapshot (pdf) of how countries performed.
  • On the Internet, there’s a Facebook page for parents and a special PISA Day website and, later on Tuesday, a webinar.
  • You can also follow PISA 2012 on Twitter.
  • And you can read Andreas Schleicher’s thoughts at the OECD educationtoday blog.
  • Full results and analysis from PISA 2012 are presented in the following reports (with more to come next year): Vol. I presents the main findings on student performance; Vol. II looks at issues of equity and fairness in education; Vol. III looks at student engagement and self-beliefs; and Vol. IV looks at the role of how schools are run and resourced. And there’s a special report on what the United States can learn from PISA.

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