The much awaited Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) scores were published by the OECD today. It is a moment when those in charge of education are reminded of what it felt like when they were young, arriving home to present their school report cards to their parents.
In 2015, PISA tests were given to 540,000 15-year-olds across 72 countries. For the first time the tests were computerised. Covering three areas: science, reading and mathematics, the testing is focused on students’ ability to apply useful knowledge, rather than on their ability to cram.
Switzerland’s 2015 scores slipped a little from 2012. In 2012, Switzerland came 12th overall, with an average score of 518. In 2015, it came 15th, with an average score of 506.
Switzerland’s area of strength remained intact. In 2012, Switzerland was the 7th (531) strongest in mathematics. In 2015, it dropped only one place to 8th (521). In both years it was the highest ranked non-Asian nation in mathematics. The only other European nation with a comparable score was Estonia with 520.
Switzerland’s weakest performance was reading literacy. Here it dropped 14 places from 14th in 2012, to 28th in 2015, slipping one point below the international average of 493. Reading literacy, tests an individual’s capacity to understand, use, reflect on and engage with written text.
The clear leader this year was Singapore. This tiny country, less than half the land area of the canton of Zurich, ranked top across all three disciplines, scoring 556 in science, 535 in reading, and 556 in maths.
PISA also looks at performance gaps between boys and girls, immigrants and non-immigrants, and social background.
In most countries, boys perform better than girls in mathematics, and slightly better than girls in science, while girls outperform boys in reading.
Switzerland follows these tendencies but performs slightly above average on gender equality. In addition, it is ahead of the average on educating immigrants. Differences in social background play a bigger role in educational success in Switzerland than the average however. Social background is more important than where you were born, compared to other nations.
In a press release this morning, the Swiss government issued a note of warning. In it, it questioned the validity of the latest PISA results, saying question marks remain and the OECD is yet to respond to all of its questions. In particular it casts doubt on the comparability of the computerised tests to the old written ones. And it questions changes to student selection that do not fit with demographic shifts.
Those capable of high PISA scores will now need to look at the data in more detail and work out how to usefully apply the knowledge.
Swiss government communiqué (in French) – Take a 5 minute French test now
Swiss government communiqué (in German)
Switzerland’s 2015 PISA scores – OECD (in English)
PISA 2015 assessment and analytical framework (in English)
The overall scores below are the scores for science, reading and mathematics added together and divided by three.