How effective are school systems at providing young
people with a solid foundation in the knowledge and skills that will equip them for
life and learning beyond school? The OECD Programme for International Student
Assessment (PISA) assesses student knowledge and skills at age 15, i.e. toward the end of compulsory education. The PISA 2009
survey focused on reading, but for the first time, also assessed the ability of
students to read, understand and use digital texts.
The PISA survey covers reading, mathematics and
science. In the 2009 round of PISA, one hour of testing time was devoted to reading,
half an hour was devoted to mathematics and half an hour to science. Each student
spent two hours on the assessment items. In 19 countries, students were given
additional questions via computer to assess their capacity to read digital texts.
Reading literacy is the capacity to understand, use and
reflect on written texts in order to achieve one's goals, develop one's knowledge and
potential, and participate in society. Mathematical literacy is the capacity to
identify and understand the role that mathematics plays in the world, make
well-founded judgements, and use mathematics in ways that meet the needs of concerned
and reflective citizens. Scientific literacy is the capacity to use scientific
knowledge to identify questions, acquire new knowledge, explain scientific phenomena,
and draw evidence-based conclusions about science-related issues.
The original PISA scales for
reading (major domain in 2000 PISA survey), mathematics (major domain in 2003 PISA
survey) and science (major domain in 2006 PISA survey) were set at 500 points for
participating OECD countries as approximately two-third of students across OECD
countries scored between 400 and 600. In 2009 PISA survey, with a slightly wider range
of OECD countries, the average score changed for each domain: 493 points for reading,
496 for mathematics and 501 for science.
Leading experts in countries participating in PISA
advise on the scope and nature of the assessments, with final decisions taken by OECD
governments. Substantial efforts and resources are devoted to achieving cultural and
linguistic breadth and balance in the assessment materials. Stringent quality
assurance mechanisms are applied in translation, sampling and data collection.
Over 520 000 15-year-old students in 75 participating
countries or economies were assessed in PISA 2009. Because the results are based on
probability samples, standard errors (S.E.) are normally shown in the tables.
The graph shows the difference between the OECD
average score in reading (493 score points) and the mean scores of individual
countries. As it did in PISA 2006, Korea tops all participating OECD countries in
reading. The reading scores of the United States, Sweden, Germany, Ireland,
France, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Hungary and Portugal are not significantly
different from the OECD average. The graph also shows results for mathematics
relative to the OECD average (496 score points). While most countries that do well
in one subject also do well in the other, some countries show significant
differences: Switzerland, for example, has better scores in mathematics than in
The table presents scores by gender. As in PISA
2006, girls do significantly better in reading than boys in all countries, with an
average gender gap of 39 score points. Conversely, boys outperform girls in
mathematics by an average of 12 score points. On average, there is no gender gap
in science performance, although in some countries, there are significant
differences. For example, in the United States, boys perform significantly better
in science than girls, while in Finland the opposite is true.