Major domain: mathematical literacy

  • A combined mathematics scale shows performance across the four content areas indicating that the top third of students perform at least at Level 4, but the bottom quarter lack all but the basic skills at Level 1 and these can be combined to compare overall mathematics performance in countries.
  • It is only possible to present a range of ranks for each country but within-country differences are critical, including some regional difference that can be measured so it is useful to look at how each country’s scores are distributed around their mean revealing that each country has students both with very low and very high performance and that the middle half of students vary in performance by more in some countries than others.
  • One can also adjust country performance to account for socio-economic differences. The case for doing so is confirmed by a correlation between national income and mathematics performance, accounting for roughly a fifth of country difference. There are countries that do better or worse than predicted by their national income. Adjusting also for adults’ educational attainment creates an even greater correction. Another perspective results from considering how much money countries devote to education, which shows a) a positive relationship between spending per student and mean mathematics performance, but also (b) that high spending levels do not guarantee high performance.

Reading literacy

  • The mean performance in reading literacy span a wide range, with Finnish students doing best overall. Within each country however, the range of performance is even greater, and some countries manage to contain this difference better than others.
  • Results from the two PISA surveys should be compared cautiously. The performance of some countries was slightly better, of others slightly worse.
  • Females perform better at reading than males, but to different degrees across countries. In many countries males are more likely than females to be among the lowest performers.

Scientific literacy

  • On average students did as well in science in 2003, as in 2000, but their results were slightly more spread out.
  • Results for the two science surveys should be compared cautiously. Some countries showed improvement, most often driven by higher-ability students while science performance fell in a smaller number of countries, most often pulled down by lower-ability students.
  • Science showed the smallest average gender differences among all content areas assessed.

Attitudes to mathematics

  • Students who are less anxious perform better regardless of other characteristics. Anxiety and interest in and enjoyment of mathematics are closely interrelated, while control strategies are not directly associated with performance.

Link to the international PISA2003 report