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PISA … headlines and more

8 December 2010
by Brian Keeley

Boys and girls scored equally badly on hairstyle

Lots of reaction – and a certain amount of handwringing – following the publication yesterday of results from the latest round of the OECD’s PISA student assessments.

The very strong showing by students in the Chinese city of Shanghai got a lot of attention: “I’m kind of stunned, I’m thinking Sputnik,” one former US educational official told The New York Times.

On the Atlantic’s website, former China resident James Fallows admitted to some reservations about the Shanghai results, but hoped they would spur a renewed focus on educational reform in the US: “I’m happy for people to be as startled as possible by these results. Anything that will direct attention to American fundamentals – education, infrastructure, research, that sort of tedious thing – is fine with me.”

Incidentally, the lessons for the US from PISA are dealt with in this report.

A few other stories from PISA 2009:

Trends: For the first time ever, PISA includes a separate report this year on trends in student performance since its first round in 2000. Some countries have much to celebrate, with new OECD member Chile seeing a very large fall in the number of students scoring at the low end. The news was less good for Ireland, where The Irish Times’ Seán Flynn noted that “on literacy, Ireland has fallen from fifth place to 17th, the most dramatic drop of any OECD state”. He hoped the results would have a “transformative effect” on Ireland’s schools.

The impact of social background: One of the key findings from PISA is that students’ social background is one of the main determinants in educational success. But as the programme also shows, some countries – for example Canada, Finland, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong-China and Shanghai, do a very good job of minimising this impact.

In Wales, there was concern that the latest PISA results showed social background remained a high obstacle to success: “In essence if we want to explain the PISA outcomes, a large part of that will lie in the insidious effect which poverty continues to have on our nation and its people, particularly our children,” wrote Professor David Egan.

Girls and boys: One of the issues PISA examines is the difference between how well boys and girls do. In reading literacy – the focus subject in PISA 2009 – girls did better than boys in every place that took part. Among the OECD countries, girls were about a year ahead of boys in reading. By contrast, boys did better than girls in mathematics, but the difference was not as great.

In Finland – which lost its top spot in PISA this year, although it remains an extremely very strong performer – boys’ relative lack of interest in reading was a concern for Education Minister Henna Virkkunen, AFP reported. “Ten years ago, one in five youths said they did not read for pleasure. Now that figure is one in three, and 50% for boys,” the minister said.

In Australia, education research leader Geoff Masters was worried that girls are slipping behind in mathematics. “The gender gap in mathematics, which appeared to have closed in recent decades, has re-emerged, with boys again significantly outperforming girls,” he wrote in The Australian.

Useful Links  

 OECD PISA – the Programme for International Student Assessment

 OECD educationtoday blog   – Spotlight on PISA 

OECD work on education

OECD Insights: Human Capital

PISA at the OECD iLibrary

 PISA video – What do students know and what can they do?

Video series: Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education

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