The results of the latest PISA survey have been published. PISA (the Programme for International Student Assessment) is a survey conducted every three years by the OECD. It aims to compare the performance of schools and education systems worldwide by assessing 15/16 year olds in three main subjects – mathematics, science, and reading – with a special focus on one subject per survey. PISA 2012 was the fifth survey, with a special focus on mathematics. Around 510,000 pupils sat a two-hour paper-based test, with some taking an additional computer-based test. All the pupils, and their head teachers, also completed questionnaires about their background.
While much of the media coverage has emphasised the differences between countries, the 2012 survey shows that the difference in mathematics performance within countries is greater. Over 300 points – the equivalent of more than seven years of schooling – often separates the highest and the lowest performers in a country. Socio-economic differences were also important - across OECD countries, a more socio-economically advantaged pupil scores 78 points higher in mathematics – the equivalent of nearly two years of schooling – than a less-advantaged pupil.
The UK average mathematics score was 494 points (the same as the OECD average), around the average in terms of performance differences in mathematics across socio-economic groups (82 point difference between socio-economically advantaged and disadvantaged students), and average in terms of the strength of the relationship between mathematics performance and socio-economic status.
A number of suggestions are put forward in the Results in Focus:
Target low performance, regardless of pupils’ socio-economic status, either by targeting low-performing schools or low-performing pupils within schools, depending on the extent to which low performance is concentrated by school;
Target disadvantaged children through additional instructional resources or economic assistance;
Apply more universal policies to raise standards for all pupils (eg, altering the content and pace of the curriculum, improving teaching techniques, changing the age of entry into school); and
Include marginalised pupils in mainstream schools and classrooms.