The Results are in: PISA Updates for 2012

Test scores don’t always tell the complete story, but they can be critical signposts on the long and winding road to education reform. This is especially case with the PISA assessment, which was designed to understand and improve education systems around the globe. Because the evaluation is applied over time and across many geographies, it begins to give us a sense for progress – or lack thereof. [Daily Edventures has featured Andreas Schleicher of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) several times to give us his perspective on what the PISA test means.]

 Last week, the launch of PISA 2012 has many government leaders, educators and parents talking. This version of the assessment focused on the math skills of about 28 million 15-year olds around the world. Importantly, the test captured these students’ ability to reason and to use math concepts to make the critical judgments and decisions required in our complex, 21st century world. This kind of literacy, as defined by the OECD, is a skill set that can be acquired and used over a lifetime. 

As always, the headlines generated by new PISA scores can be jolting, especially those highlighting the gap between top-performing countries and those that seem to be losing ground. But beyond the headlines, there’s a good deal to learn here from countries like Shanghai-China, with a mean score 119 points – or the equivalent of nearly three school years – above the OECD average. And that work is just beginning. 

One tide I’m thrilled to see turning is the gender gap. According to the 2012 results, boys perform better than girls in mathematics in only 37 out of the 65 countries and economies that participated in PISA 2012, and girls outperform boys in 5 countries.

In only six countries is the gender gap in mathematics scores larger than the equivalent of half a year of formal schooling. Also encouraging is the fact that boys and girls seem to be performing equally in science, some good news in our global efforts to promote STEM subjects in general, and for underrepresented groups specifically.

 For teachers, standardized tests can be a mixed bag, and often seem to stand in the way of real learning. But as we look at the world through a wider lens, the PISA assessments are an important indicator of progress made and the significant work still to be done.

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