Chapter 3 : OECD PISA Reports
Contents – © ISBN: 0-909001-61-8
Chapter 1: Setting the Scene
Chapter 2: Where to Start?
Chapter 3: OECD PISA Reports
Chapter 4: UNICEF Report
Chapter 5: Decline of USA
Chapter 6: The UK Experience
Chapter 7: My UK Experience
Chapter 8: People at the coalface
Chapter 9: Stressed out Children
Chapter 10: Finland
Chapter 11: The Interview
Chapter 12: Pointers for the Future
Chapter 13: Music – The Crucial Ingredient
Chapter 14: Conclusion
PISA studies were initiated by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) as part of its International Indicators of Education Systems (INES) programme. The studies provide the OECD member countries with internationally comparable data about their educational infrastructures and systems; and as the results are public, other interested parties can garner and assimilate the same information.
Generally speaking, the majority of educators and administrators worldwide now accept that PISA studies are the most comprehensive international assessment of educational outcomes. Nearly all the young people tested were nearing the end of compulsory education.
Thus PISA provides participating countries with information on how well their schools prepare young adults to meet the challenges of the future. It achieves this by comprehensive testing of how students in their last year of schooling can apply the knowledge they have acquired to many and various problems.
Objectives of PISA
Therefore, PISA assessments do not focus primarily on purely factual knowledge. Rather, PISA evaluates how efficiently school leavers can focus on problem solving. By so doing information is obtained on whether such young people possess the ability to apply their knowledge to further and optimise their participation in the social, economic and political life of whatever country they are living in.
PISA also examines the differences regarding such proficiency when comparisons are made between countries. This is achieved not only by examining students’ learning and school environment but also, where possible, outside of this environment.
One result of such an examination is to examine and pinpoint potential reasons for identifiable disparities. We shall return to this important subject later.
Every Three Years
PISA is planned as a long-term project, each study occurring every three years. Starting in 2000, the studies, therefore, are completed on a regular basis every three years. Each study covers three areas. These areas are reading literacy, mathematical literacy and scientific literacy. In addition, each study also concentrates and focusses on one of these areas.
In 2000, the study concentrated on reading literacy; in 2003 on mathematical literacy; in 2006 on scientific literacy; while the 2009 once again concentrates on reading literacy.
In each study (cycle is the term used by PISA), two-thirds of the testing time is devoted to the “major” area (domain is the term used by PISA) that is being studied while a profile and overview of skills is examined in the other two areas being studies.
In the early summer of 2000, a total of 180,000 students from 28 OECD member countries and four non-OECD countries (Brazil, Latvia, Liechtenstein and the Russian Federation) participated in the first PISA assessment. Between 4,500 and 10,000 students were tested in each country.
OECD countries participating in PISA 2000 – Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States.
Non-OECD countries participating in PISA 2000 – Brazil, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Russian Federation
Results from PISA 2000
For reading literacy – the major domain of the first PISA cycle – the study yields the following results:
Reading literacy: Finland shows the highest performance on the reading literacy scale followed by Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Ireland.
Mathematical literacy: Japan, Korea, New Zealand , Finland and Australia
Scientific literacy: Korea, Japan, Finland, UK and New Zealand/Canada/Australia
41 countries including all 30 OECD countries participated in PISA 2003. While the first PISA survey (2000) focussed on reading, the 2003 PISA was focussed on mathematics although it also included outcomes in reading and science.
Also, for the first time student performance in problem solving was examined. The 2003 PISA started out by asking a number of questions, “Are students well prepared to meet the challenges of the future? Are they able to analyse, reason and communicate their ideas effectively? Do they have the capacity to continue learning throughout life?”
Mathematical literacy: As far as mean scores in mathematics the following, in order of merit, are the countries gaining the highest scores: Hong Kong-China, Finland, Korea, Netherlands, Liechtenstein, Japan. New Zealand was joint 11th with Australia.
One interesting statistic is that while most students overall feel that their mathematics teacher gives extra help when students need it, this ranges from less than 60% in a number of countries to 75% or more in New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, USA and Thailand.
Although there is no room for complacency, New Zealand teachers are in the highest bracket in helping students and this is reflected in the high overall position of New Zealand in the performance tables.
However, New Zealand is included where, at the same time, principals’ report that shortage of mathematics teachers hinders, to some extent, instruction capacity. One would have thought there would be every incentive for politicians and administrators to encourage teaching mathematics as a career. Disempowering teachers á la present government policy in 2010/2011, will, of course, have the opposite effect.
In four countries, Finland, Japan, Korea and the partner country Hong Kong-China, students perform higher than in any other country participating in the study so it is worthwhile, later, examining the status of teachers in these countries and also the flexibility and freedom of the administrative structures within which they teach.
PISA 2003 also examines reading proficiency. New Zealand was among the top 10 performing countries with 65-80 per cent of students at reading Level 3 or above, the others in the top ten being Australia, Canada, Finland, Ireland, Korea, the Netherlands, Sweden, Hong Kong-China and Liechtenstein.
As far as overall ranking is concerned Finland was again top, New Zealand was fifth but was almost joint second with Korea, Canada, Australia and Liechtenstein.
More than 400,000 students from 57 countries making up close to 90% of the world economy took part in PISA 2006. The focus was on science but the assessment also included reading and mathematics.
Scientific literacy: Finland, with an average of 563 score-points, was the highest-performing country on the PISA 2006 science scale. Six other high-scoring countries, including New Zealand, had mean scores of 530 to 542 points, the others being Canada, Japan and the partner countries/economies Hong Kong-China, Chinese Taipei and Estonia.
On average across OECD countries, 1.3% of 15-year-olds reached Level 6 of the PISA 2006 science scale, the highest proficiency level. These students could consistently identify, explain and apply scientific knowledge, and knowledge about science, in a variety of complex life situations.
New Zealand together with Finland had the best performing students; in these countries. Their achievement, figure of at least 3.9%, was three times the OECD average.
As far as student attainment at Level 5 is concerned Finland was top closely followed by New Zealand. Over one in five students in Finland (21%) and over one in six in New Zealand (18%) reached at least Level 5. In Japan, Australia and Canada, and the partner economies Hong Kong-China and Chinese Taipei, this figure was between 14 and 16% (OECD average 9%).
Reading literacy: Korea, with 556 score-points, was the highest-performing country in reading. Finland followed second with 547 points and the partner economy Hong Kong-China third with 536 points. Canada and New Zealand had mean reading scores between 520 and 530, while Ireland, Australia, Poland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland, all scored significantly above the OECD average of 492 score-points.
PISA 2006 Science Competencies for Tomorrow’s World
PISA 2006 concentrated on science literacy but mathematics and reading were also assessed. Their assessment is divided into two volumes.
Volume 1: PISA’s analysis gives the most comprehensive international picture of science learning today. Not only does it assess how well students perform, but also evaluates student interest in science and their awareness of the opportunities that scientific competencies bring. In addition, it examines the environment that schools offer for science learning.
PISA 2006 performs a valuable service in that it categorises the performance of students, schools and countries in the context of their social background. Also, as it identifies the best educational practices, it means that countries not implementing such practices have the opportunity to study countries at the top of the league tables.
Thus, this PISA study indicates the educational practices that countries need to implement in order to be successful and by so doing describes both, and the correlation between same, of how to provide high quality education and equitable learning outcomes,
Volume 2: Data/Données presents the PISA 2006 full data set underlying Volume 1. Together with the PISA 2000 and PISA 2003 surveys, PISA 2006 completes the first cycle of assessment in the three key subject areas. PISA is now conducting a second cycle of surveys, beginning in 2009 with reading as the major subject and continuing in 2012 (mathematics) and 2015 (science).
Finland, with an average of 563 score-points, was the highest-performing country on the PISA 2006 science scale. Six other high-scoring countries had mean scores of 530 to 542 points: Canada, Japan and New Zealand and the partner countries/economies Hong Kong-China, Chinese Taipei and Estonia. Australia, the Netherlands, Korea, Germany, the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium and Ireland, and the partner countries/economies Liechtenstein, Slovenia and Macao-China also scored above the OECD average of 500 score-points.
On average across OECD countries, 1.3% of 15-year-olds reached Level 6 of the PISA 2006 science scale, the highest proficiency level. Such students could consistently identify, explain and apply scientific knowledge, and knowledge about science, in a variety of complex life situations.
In New Zealand and Finland this figure was at least 3.9%, three times the OECD average. In the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan and Canada, as well as the partner countries/economies Liechtenstein, Slovenia and Hong Kong-China, between 2 and 3% reached Level 6.
In the forward to the Executive Summary of the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) the following statement is made:
“PISA focuses on young people’s ability to use their knowledge and skills to meet real-life challenges. This orientation reflects a change in the goals and objectives of curricula themselves, which are increasingly concerned with what students can do with what they learn at school and not merely with whether they have mastered specific curricular content. PISA’s unique features include its:
• Policy orientation, which highlights differences in performance patterns and identifies features common to high performing students, schools and education systems by linking data on learning outcomes with data on student characteristics and other key factors that shape learning in and outside of school.
• Innovative concept of “literacy”, which refers both to students’ capacity to apply knowledge and skills in key subject areas and to their ability to analyse, reason and communicate effectively as they pose, interpret and solve problems in a variety of situations.
• Relevance to lifelong learning, which goes beyond assessing students’ competencies in school subjects by asking them to report on their motivation to learn, their beliefs about themselves and their learning strategies.
• Regularity, which enables countries to monitor their progress in meeting key learning objectives.
• Breadth of geographical coverage and collaborative nature, which, in PISA 2009, encompasses the 34 OECD member countries and 41 partner countries and economies.”
(Note: According to OECD official number of countries participating in PISA in 2009 is 65 and this is the figure generally accepted)
Results from PISA 2009
More than 470,000 students from 65 countries making up over 90% of the world economy took part in PISA 2009. The focus was on reading but the assessment also included science and mathematics. For reading literacy, (also the major domain of the first PISA cycle in 2000; 2003 – Mathematics; 2006 – Science), the study yields the following results.
Reading literacy: As stated, “PISA’s conception of reading literacy encompasses the range of situations in which people read, the different ways written texts are presented, and the variety of ways that readers approach and use texts, from the functional and finite, such as finding a particular piece of practical information, to the deep and far-reaching, such as understanding other ways of doing, thinking and being. Research shows that these kinds of reading literacy skills are more reliable predictors of economic and social well-being than the number of years spent in school or in post-formal education.”
Korea and Finland are the highest performing OECD countries, with mean scores of 539 and 536 points, respectively. However, the partner economy Shanghai-China outperforms them by a significant margin, with a mean score of 556. Top-performing countries or economies in reading literacy include Hong Kong-China (with a mean score of 533), Singapore (526), Canada (524), New Zealand (521), Japan (520) and Australia (515). The Netherlands (508), Belgium (506), Norway (503), Estonia (501), Switzerland (501), Poland (500), Iceland (500) and Liechtenstein (499) also perform above the OECD mean score of 494, while the USA, Sweden, Germany, Ireland, France, Denmark, UK, Hungary, Portugal, and partner economy Chinese Taipei have scores close to the OECD mean.
The lowest performing OECD country, Mexico, has an average score of 425. This means that the gap between the highest and lowest performing OECD countries is 114 points; the equivalent of more than two school years.
The gap between the highest and lowest performing partner country or economy is even larger, with 242 score-points or more than six years of formal schooling .
Differences between countries represent, however, only a fraction of overall variation in student performance. Addressing the educational needs of such diverse populations and narrowing the gaps in student performance that have been observed remains a formidable challenge for all countries.
An average of 7.6% of students attain Level 5, and in Singapore, New Zealand and Shanghai-China the percentage is more than twice the OECD average.
From the information provided, it is clear that some countries, even developing a small number of high-performing students is beset with problems. For example, in 16 countries, less than 1% of students reach Level 5.
Many students at this proficiency should be able to abstract information on the basis of locating required specific material. They should be able to make correct decisions as to which material is relevant and which is not.
Therefore, they should be able to critically evaluate information and build hypotheses drawing on specialised knowledge. This can be taken a stage further where students develop a full and detailed understanding of a text whose content or form is unfamiliar. Following on from this, they should be able to understand concepts that are not expected, thus challenging their thinking and appraisal of expected outcomes.
Obviously, in countries where even a small number of students are unable to attain such proficiency further appraisals of teaching training and practices are urgently needed.
Mathematical literacy: Korea, with a country mean of 546 score-points, performed highest among OECD countries in the PISA 2009 mathematics assessment. The partner countries and economies Shanghai-China, Singapore and Hong Kong-China rank first, second and third, respectively. In the PISA 2009 mathematics assessment, the OECD countries Finland, Switzerland, Japan, Canada, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Belgium, Australia, Germany, Estonia, Iceland, Denmark, Slovenia and the partner countries and
economies Chinese Taipei, Liechtenstein and Macao-China also perform significantly above the OECD average in mathematics.
Scientific literacy: Shanghai-China, Finland, Hong Kong-China and Singapore are the four highest performers in the PISA 2009 science assessment.In science, New Zealand, Canada, Estonia, Australia, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Slovenia, Poland, Ireland and Belgium as well as the partner country and economies Chinese Taipei, Liechtenstein and Macao-China also perform significantly above the OECD average.
Countries of similar prosperity can produce very different educational results. The balance of proficiency in some of the richer countries in PISA looks very different from that of some of the poorer countries.
For example, as far as reading proficiency is concerned, the ten countries in which the majority of students are at Level 1 or below contrast starkly in profile with the 34 OECD countries, where on average a majority attains at least Level 3. The ten countries in which the majority of students are at Level 1 or below, unsurprisingly, are in poorer parts of the world,
However, the fact that the best-performing country or economy in the 2009 assessment is Shanghai-China, with a GDP per capita well below the OECD average, underlines that low national income is not incompatible with strong educational performance.
Korea, which is the best-performing OECD country, also has a GDP per capita below the OECD average. Indeed, while there is a correlation between GDP per capita and educational performance, this predicts only 6% of the differences in average student performance across countries.
The other 94% of differences reflect the fact that two countries of similar prosperity can produce very different educational results. Results also vary when substituting spending per student, relative poverty or the share of students with an immigrant background for GDP per capita.
Average spending in OECD countries on primary and secondary schooling rose by almost two-fifths in real terms between 1995 and 2004. Many wonder why this has had little measurable effect. For those who read the following chapters it is expected!
Until content and methodology relate to phases and stages of neurological development, test scores will remain disappointing or worse!
The most improved country went to Poland, an also-ran in 2000. This reflects not increased spending, but successful reforms in 1999, which ended the practice of early selection on ability. By the second study, in 2003, the gains were already noticeable and so marked that OECD statisticians cautioned privately that two data points do not make a trend, and decided to wait and see what happened next time.
Further improvements have dispelled all doubts, making Poles the poster children for the proposition that early “tracking”, namely allocating pupils to different sorts of schools or programme’s hurts poorer performing students without benefiting the rest.
Barbara Ischinger, OECD’s director of education stated, “We have learnt that you can really make a change by bringing weaker performers into more demanding streams.”
Letting schools run themselves seems to boost a country’s position in this high-stakes international tournament: giving school principals the power to control budgets, set incentives and decide whom to hire – all appear to increase the probability of increasing students’ proficiency.
One of the most important determinants is attracting high-quality teachers: a common factor among all the best performers is that teachers are drawn from the top ranks of graduates. No apologies for stating that disempowering teachers as per present UK and USA policies dictates (in 2010/11, New Zealand seems to be following suite), only produces disastrous results but again administrators refuse to acknowledge this!
It gives me no satisfaction to state that I first described the inevitable consequences of the then present system in the UK as long ago as 1971; similarly in USA, 1981. As I have said repeatedly, at some point administrators in the UK and USA need to examine their own mindsets and realize the policies they are implementing are negating the very freedoms that are necessary to rectify what can only be described as the present horrendous situations.
Will this occur? My experience of the last forty years in the UK and USA indicates that the mindsets are so inflexible that changes will not be implemented. The result is that the present damage to children will continue and that UK and USA, as far as students’ scores are concerned will not increase but will probably fall compared with other OECD countries.
Tragically, as far as children’s wellbeing is concerned, the UK and USA will remain the worst countries in which to raise children.
Considering that it will take something between 20-30 years for the necessary changes to work through, the situation can be described as desperate and, of course, the present direction is totally the opposite one of the one required so currently the course is still in disaster mode with no improvement in sight.
There is a great deal of information available to clearly indicate that the politicisations and centralisation, as per UK and USA, is exactly the wrong direction to take if the objective is to optimize children’s wellbeing and learning.
It would be uplifting to see the present UK and USA doing better rather than worse but it will not happen until administrators show enough courage to admit what is happening is disastrous for their students but if the present mindsets continue (as they are almost certain to do) then I will be describing, as I have done for the last thirty years, surveys and reports clearly indicating that the children in both countries are faring badly when compared with the children from other OECD countries.
Tragically for their children, UK and USA administrators continually fail to show the necessary vision and insight that are urgently needed. Obviously, I would like to relate that at some point their mindsets will change from their present state of denial but I see not the slightest movement in the USA with perhaps some movement in the UK.
I make no apology on the grounds that the education of children is far too important to do otherwise than to state that if anything the present mindsets are so inflexible and rigid, they, in part, are destroying the propensity of our children to optimise their learning.
It is nothing short of tragic for the children of the UK and USA. Why New Zealand would want to tread a similar path to the UK and introduce national standardised testing beggars belief! One can only hope that as a matter of urgency New Zealand politicians and administrators will change the road they are travelling on.
New Zealand politicians and administrators should note that UK and USA students do not belong to a different human race; they fare badly because of the UK and USA education systems in which they are educated. Having tried to receive, without success, a positive response for nearly 40 years in UK and 27 years in USA, I am not hopeful that anything will change in the USA, a faint hope for the UK and even more for New Zealand!
If interested, Mollet Learning Academy (MLA) and WideHorizon Education Resources (WER) produces Teaching Packs that are designed to appeal to the heart, head and hands. Original material is the Mollet Learning Academy (MLA) Teaching Packs (written initially for New Zealand teachers). On request from USA teachers, monitoring and assessment procedures were added and renamed WER Teaching Packs to distinguish them from MLA Teaching Packs. All lessons are designed to appeal to the heart, head and hands.
Business Plan at http://molletlearningacademy.com/corporate/MLABusinessPlan.pdf
For overall content of Ancient Civilisations please click
Program Overview Ancient Civilisations
For overall content of Ancient Kush please click Program Overview Kush
For overall content of History of California please click
Overview Teachers Handbook CA
For overall content re improving reading and language skills through history please click Overview Reading History
For overall content re MLA approach to teaching
mathematics please click Overview Teaching Math
For overall content re MLA approach to teaching
fractions please click Fractions Teacher Handbook
For overall content re MLA approach to teaching multiplication tables please click Multiplication Tables Teachers Handbook
Previous PowerPoint presentations converted to pdfs for wordpress
Ancient China P_China
Ancient Egypt P_Egypt
Ancient Greece P_Greece
Ancient India P_India
Ancient Israelites P_Israelites
Ancient Kush P_Kush
Early Humankind/Prehistory P_Prehistory
Ancient Rome P_Rome
Multiplication Tables P_MultiplicationTables
The following free sample lessons (sorry limit one at present) are available in this order: Ancient Civilisations (Ancient China, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, Ancient India, Ancient Kush, Ancient Israelites, Ancient Rome, Mesopotamia, Prehistory/Early Humankind), Fractions, Multiplication Tables, History of California, See below titles for descriptions.
Ancient China (Lessons 4/5 of Module 2)
Mathematics, Counting Rods and Chinese Abacus
Ancient Egypt (Lesson 3 of Module 3)
Papyrus – how it is made, activities etc
Ancient Greece (Lesson 1 of Module 2)
Story “Parrhasius and Helena”, Guided Reading,
The Court of Law, Simulate an Athenian Court of Law.
Ancient India (Lesson 3 of Module 2)
“Asoka and the Mauryan Empire,” “India’s National Emblem,”
Assessment Rubric for India’s National Emblem,
Ancient Kush (Lesson 2 of Module 2)
Story “Expedition to Jebel Barkal,” “Jebel Barkal: A Poem,”
Guided Reading, Review Exercises
Ancient Israelites (Lesson 2 of Module 1)
Story “Abraham,” Father of a Nation, Guided Reading
Ancient Rome (Lesson 3 of Module 2)
“The people of Rome speak out,” Story “Julius Caesar,”
Crossing the Rubicon, Guided Reading
Mesopotamia (Lesson 4 of Module 3)
Story “Gilgamesh,” “The Death of Enkidu.”
Prehistory/Early Humankind (Lesson 2 of Module 2)
The Crô-Magnons including story “The Lascaux Caves”,
Guided Reading and “The Cave Paintings at Altmira.”
Fractions SubUnit 3.4 Drama: A Tale of Fractions
A free lesson/drama involving students in a drama about the Pied Piper of Hamelin
Multiplication Tables SubUnit 3.7 Ten Times Table: Mr. Pickles
A free lesson, activities, story, game/, patterns,
cooperative learning activities about the ten times table
History of California Lesson 5.6 The Gold Rush: Part 1
A free lesson describing the background of the gold rush and life in the gold fields
For video clips please see
McLaren Rd talk
Be the ONE who listens
Since advent of social media all material is now in pdf format (no postage or processing fee). Physical copies (postage/processing fees apply) can be provided at additional cost – please contact MLA.
Each SubUnit (not Unit) costs USA $19.95 NZ $24.95
(This price includes permission to photocopy)
1. The MLA approach to education believes in developing the creative and imaginative side of the student in harmony with the intellectual and cognitive. To achieve this, MLA Teaching Packs make stories and drama an integral part of the lessons and involve students through storytelling, art, simulations, drama, craft, discussion and creation of a personal record.
2. There are MLA Teaching Packs for teaching
a) Ancient Civilizations/World History
b) History of California and
c) Mathematics (Fractions and Multiplication Tables)
3. In a MLA Teaching Pack you will find teacher guidelines, stories providing an in-depth experience, information sheets presented in an interesting and stimulating format, activity sheets, suggestions for further research, maps with related activities, questions for discussion and assessment, dramas for class/school performance, guidance for the student’s personal record or portfolio, a variety of review exercises and contents designed and structured for authentic assessment
4. For an explanation of the philosophy behind the writing of these packs click here
(David Mollet’s HomePage)
5. If you are interested in how your students can work with top quality papyrus (imported from Egypt) click here.
6. We have also customized our material for USA public schools. This material includes monitoring and assessment procedures for students some of which are not based on the MLA approach.
7. Information on workshops/presentations for introducing the MLA approach into public schools available at: here (WideHorizon) and here (Waldorf))
8. Click here to read what teachers think about our lessons/newsletters.
“These resource packs contain unbound, ready-to-use reproducible masters, that are varied, simple, and appealing to students. The interactive strategies suggested are suitable for independent, small-group, and whole-class assignments.”
(Grade 6 Course Models – California State Department of Education)
9. Click here to go to author’s experiences in the Waldorf world.
10. Click here for details of on-line courses accredited by San Diego State University.
Dr. David Mollet email@example.com
NZ: h 09-555-2021 m 022-101-1741, 41 Hilling St, Titirangi, Auckland 0604
USA: 619-463-1270, 6656 Reservoir Lane, San Diego, CA 92115 (Skype waldorfedu)
1) The material was initially written for New Zealand teachers but on request from USA teachers, monitoring and assessment procedures were added. To view this material please visit https://molletacademy.com/
WideHorizon Education Resources (WER) https://molletacademy.com/widehorizon-2/ Waldorf Education Resources (WER) https://molletacademy.com/waldorf/
2) MLA is also involved in researching on an international basis, what works and what doesn’t work. Most of the research results can be seen at https://molletacademy.com/research-reports/ while a draft of a book The Task for New Zealand Education is at https://molletacademy.com/the-task-for-nz-education/
3) Blogs at http://www.molletlearningacademy.blogspot.co.nz/
4) Business Plan at http://molletlearningacademy.com/corporate/MLABusinessPlan.pdf
5) Papyrus https://molletacademy.com/papyrus/