U.S. scores fell in math and remained about the same in reading and science, near the international average.
PISA is given to 15-year-olds in 72 countries.
Higher performing nations teach fewer math topics in greater depth, Andreas Schleicher, who runs the test, told journalists. Students master a topic and then move on, rather than cycling back to the same concept each year, he said.
PISA results matter, writes Robert Rothman. “PISA is designed to measure how well students can apply what they have learned to real-world problems.” In a follow-up study, Canadian students’ results correlated with their success in college and the job market.
The usual excuses don’t apply, he argues. U.S. students aren’t more likely to live in poverty than children in other OECD countries. U.S. 15-year-olds are slightly less likely to be enrolled in school.
Hong Kong has lots of poverty — and high scores for all students. Estonia also is an equity champion.
The U.S. improved on measures of equity, notes Amanda Ripley in the New York Times. “In 2006, socioeconomic status had explained 17 percent of the variance in Americans’ science scores; in 2015, it explained only 11 percent, which is slightly better than average for the developed world.”
PISA scores don’t correlate with education spending, Ripley observes. The U.S. spends more than most OECD countries for average or below-average performance. Malta spends about the same — and outperforms the U.S.
Luxembourg is the biggest spender, with mediocre results, followed by Switzerland, which has high scores. Taiwan, which spends less than average, and Singapore, which spends more, have similar, very high math scores.
Ripley summarizes what matters:
Generally speaking, the smartest countries tend to be those that have acted to make teaching more prestigious and selective; directed more resources to their neediest children; enrolled most children in high-quality preschools; helped schools establish cultures of constant improvement; and applied rigorous, consistent standards across all classrooms.
“I’m confident the Common Core is going to have a long-term impact,” Schleicher said. “Patience may be the biggest challenge.”