100 things we’ve learned from PISA

By Marilyn Achiron

Editor, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

Today, we released the 100th installment in our PISA in Focus series of briefs. First launched in February 2011, this series of reader-friendly briefs highlight important findings from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) – the world’s most comprehensive student assessment.

In honor of the 100th edition of PISA in Focus (or PiF, as it’s affectionately abbreviated here at the OECD), we’ve compiled a list of 100 things we’ve learned from PISA over the past eight years. Scroll through the full list below, test your knowledge on our new PISA quiz, and be sure to join us on 3 December for the release of brand new PISA results!

On high-performing or rapidly improving education systems :

1. Among the countries that showed improvements in average reading performance between 2000 and 2009, most can attribute those gains to large improvements among their lowest-performing students. (from PiF no. 2)

2. In countries where schools have greater autonomy over what is taught and how students are assessed, students tend to perform better. (from PiF no. 9)

3. Greater national wealth or higher expenditure on education does not guarantee better student performance./School systems that perform well in PISA believe that all students can achieve, and give them the opportunity to do so. (from PiF no. 13)

4.  Some countries and economies have shown that improvements in equity can be achieved at the same time as improvements in overall performance, and in a relatively short time. (from PiF no. 25)

5.  Among high-performing countries, differences in performance between schools are generally smaller than those in the average OECD country. (from PiF no. 27)

6.  Strong performers and successful reformers in education share some characteristics: a belief in the potential of all of their students, strong political will, and the capacity of all stakeholders to make sustained and concerted efforts towards improvement. (from PiF no. 34)

7.  How educational resources are allocated across schools is just as important as the amount of resources available. (from PiF no. 44)

8.  Countries where 15-year-old students perform at high levels internationally tend to be those where 26-28 year-olds also perform well. (from PiF no. 45)

9.  Improvement in PISA performance is not related to geography, national wealth or culture. (from PiF no. 47)

10.  The quantity and quality of resources available to schools improved significantly between 2003 and 2012, on average across OECD countries. (from PiF no. 52)

11.  There is a strong association between countries’ digital reading performance and the quality of students’ navigation across digital texts. (from PiF no. 55)

12.  In school systems where students spend more time in regular science lessons, average science scores are higher; but when students spend more time studying science after school, average science scores are lower. (from PiF no. 73)

13.  Increases in access to schooling have not, in general, come at the expense of the average quality of education for 15-year-olds. (from PiF no. 75)

14.  In most education systems, schools in which students have the best chance of being academically resilient share some common traits, including a good disciplinary climate where students can focus in class and teachers can provide well-paced instruction. (from PiF no. 80)

About equity in education:

15.  Fifteen-year-old students who had attended pre-primary education perform better on PISA than those who did not, even after accounting for their socio-economic backgrounds. (from PiF no. 1)

16.  After-school classes with a school teacher can enhance equity while after-school classes with a teacher who is not from the school can exacerbate inequities among students. (from PiF no. 3)

17.  In countries where more students repeat grades, overall performance tends to be lower and social background has a stronger impact on learning outcomes than in countries where fewer students repeat grades. (from PiF no. 6)

18.  Countries with a larger share of private schools do not perform better in PISA./Students who attend private schools tend to perform significantly better on PISA than students who attend public schools; but students in public schools in a similar socio-economic context as private schools tend to do equally well. (from PiF no. 7)

19.  The performance advantage among students whose parents read to them in their early school years is evident regardless of the family’s socio-economic status. (from PiF no. 10)

20.  The difference in socio-economic profiles between publicly and privately managed schools is narrowed when privately managed schools receive higher levels of public funding. (from PiF no. 20)

21.  In school systems where parents can choose their child’s school, and where schools compete for enrolment, schools are often more socially segregated. (from PiF no. 42)

22.  One in eight students across OECD countries has repeated a grade at least once before the age of 15. (from PiF no. 43)

23. Between 2006 and 2015, equity in education improved in 11 PISA-participating countries and economies, and on average across all OECD countries. (from PiF no. 68)

24.  In PISA 2015, only 30% of students in rural schools expected to complete at least a university degree, compared to about 50% of students in urban schools, on average across OECD countries. (from PiF no. 94)

25.  In countries where residence-based admissions policies are less widespread, disadvantaged students tend to be clustered in a limited number of schools. (from PiF no. 96)

26.  School systems with higher levels of social segregation tend to offer less equitable opportunities for learning. (from PiF no. 97)

On differences between boys and girls

27.  Among boys and girls with similar proficiency in print reading, boys tend to have stronger digital navigation skills and therefore score higher in digital reading. (from PiF no. 12)

28.  Only 5% of girls in OECD countries, on average, expect a career in engineering and computing, while 18% of boys expect a career in these fields. (from PiF no. 14)

29.  Teachers tend to give girls and socio-economically advantaged students better marks, even if they don’t perform better and don’t have better attitudes than boys and disadvantaged students. (from PiF no. 26)

30.  Parents are more likely to expect their sons, rather than their daughters, to work in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics field – even when their 15-year-old boys and girls perform at the same level in mathematics. (from PiF no. 49)

31.  Girls are almost three times more likely than boys to expect to work as doctors, veterinarians, nurses or other health professionals. (from PiF no. 69)

32.  More than 60% of girls, but less than 50% of boys reported that they feel very anxious even if they are well prepared for a test. (from PiF no. 71)

33.  Girls performed significantly better than boys in collaborative problem solving in every country and economy that participated in the assessment. (from PiF no. 78)

34.  In the majority of PISA-participating countries and economies, boys show greater confidence when learning science and greater interest in broad science topics than girls do. (from PiF no. 93)

On differences between advantaged and disadvantaged students

35.  A key difference between disadvantaged students who are resilient (they do better in school than expected, given their socio-economic status) and those who are not is that resilient students attend more regular lessons at school. (from PiF no. 5)

36.  If disadvantaged students used effective learning strategies to the same extent as advantaged students do, the performance gap between the two groups would be almost 20% narrower. (from PiF no. 30)

37. Students whose parents work in professional occupations generally outperform other students in mathematics, while students whose parents work in elementary occupations tend to underachieve compared with their peers. (from PiF no. 36)

38.  The gap in pre-primary attendance rates between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils is growing. (from PiF no. 40)

39.  Socio-economically advantaged students, and students who attend advantaged schools, tend to spend more time doing homework. (from PiF no. 46)

40.  Some 65% of socio-economically advantaged students reported that they know well or have often heard of the concept of quadratic function, on average across OECD countries; but only 43% of disadvantaged students so reported. (from PiF no. 63)

41.  Even when all students, including the most disadvantaged, have easy access to the Internet, a digital divide, based on socio-economic status, persists in how students use technology. (from PiF no. 64)

42.  Supportive learning environments and quality resources are more frequently found in advantaged schools, suggesting that schools often amplify, rather than compensate for, students’ home resources. (from PiF no. 76)

43.  In more than one-third of the countries and economies that participated in PISA 2015, teachers in the most disadvantaged schools were less qualified or less experienced than those in the most advantaged schools. (from PiF no. 85)

44.  The average difference in science performance between advantaged and disadvantaged students is equivalent to about three years of schooling. (from PiF no. 89)

45.  Socio-economically disadvantaged 15-year-old students who scored in the top quarter in reading in PISA 2000 were between 18 and 34 percentage points more likely to complete university by the age of 25 than advantaged students who scored in the bottom quarter in reading, based on longitudinal data for five OECD countries. (from PiF no. 99)

On differences between immigrant and non-immigrant students

46.  In most countries, immigrant students lag behind native students in performance; in many countries, the difference is considerable. (from PiF no. 11)

47.  Across most OECD countries, poor performance among immigrant students relative to other students is strongly related to socio-economic disadvantage at school. (from PiF no. 22)

48.  In most OECD countries, newly arrived 15-year-old immigrant students show poorer reading performance than immigrant students who had arrived in their new country when they were younger than five. (from PiF no. 29)

49.  Immigrant students who share a common country of origin, and thus many cultural similarities, perform very differently across school systems. (from PiF no. 33)

50.  The difference in mathematics performance between immigrant and non-immigrant students shrank, on average, between 2003 and 2012. (from PiF no. 53)

51.  There is a strong connection between the performance of immigrants at school and their education and labour market outcomes as young adults. (from PiF no. 57)

52.  In 2015, 23% of 15-year-old students in OECD countries were foreign-born or had at least one foreign-born parent, on average. This share had grown by six percentage points, on average, since 2003. (from PiF no. 82)

About schools, teachers and the climate in class

53. When choosing a school for their child, parents in all participating countries value academic achievement highly; but they are often even more concerned about the safety and environment of the school, and the school’s reputation. (from PiF no. 51)

54.  Large cities are generally educational assets for schools. (from PiF no. 17)

55.  In most countries and economies students who attend schools in urban areas tend to perform at higher levels than other students. (from PiF no. 28)

56.  Countries that have made teaching an attractive profession have often done so not just through pay, but by raising the status of teaching, offering real career prospects, and treating teachers as professionals. (from PiF no. 16)

57.  On average, a higher percentage of students expects to work as teachers in countries where teachers’ salaries are higher. (from PiF no. 58)

58.  Teaching strategies that support struggling students in mixed classes, such as giving students extra help when they need it, are related to students having more confidence in their mathematics ability. (from PiF no. 65)

59.  Across OECD countries, the proportion of fully certified teachers has a positive, albeit modest association with student performance in PISA. (from PiF no. 70)

60.  Science teachers who collaborate with their colleagues and participate in professional development activities are more satisfied with their jobs than those who don’t do either. (from PiF no. 81)

61.  Schools with more experienced teachers tend to perform better in PISA and also have a classroom climate that is more conducive to learning. (from PiF no. 88)

62.  Teacher-student relations are strongly associated with both performance in mathematics and students’ happiness and sense of belonging at school. (from PiF no. 50)

63.  Students who reported that there are few disciplinary problems in their classes perform better in PISA than those who reported that a lack of discipline in class disrupts learning. (from PiF no. 4)

64.  Orderly classrooms are related to better performance – regardless of the socio-economic profile of the school. (from PiF no. 32)

65.  The more time spent in mathematics classes, the better students perform, on average; but giving students more work in class is often not enough to improve learning outcomes. (from PiF no. 54)

66.  Exposure to enquiry-based science activities is associated with more positive attitudes and dispositions towards science among students. (from PiF no. 90)

67.  In most countries, science-related extracurricula activities at school are related to better student performance, a stronger belief among students in their ability to handle science-related tasks, and greater enjoyment of learning science. (from PiF no. 18)

68.  For students in OECD countries, skipping classes or days of school is associated with considerably lower scores in mathematics. (from PiF no. 35)

69.  Across OECD countries, school principals cited student truancy and staff resisting change as the problems that hinder student learning the most. (from PiF no. 67)

70.  On average across OECD countries, 4% of students reported that they are hit or pushed and 8% reported that they are victims of nasty rumours at school at least a few times per month. (from PiF no. 74)

71.  Students whose parents knew more of their friends and their friends’ parents scored higher in collaborative problem solving and reported fewer bullying experiences, even after accounting for socio-economic status. (from PiF no. 98)

72.  In 2015, the majority of students in all countries that participated in PISA reported that they feel they belong to the school community. However, in the vast majority of countries, students’ sense of belonging at school had weakened since 2003. (from PiF no. 100)

About what students know and can do

73.  Students acquire most information about environmental issues from school although only a minority of students learns about these issues in stand-alone environmental science courses. (from PiF no. 15)

74.  Participation in some forms of formal post-secondary education is consistently and substantially related to improvements in reading skills between the ages of 15 and 24. (from PiF no. 19)

75.  Students without sufficient knowledge of science consistently underestimate the time needed to find solutions to environmental problems. (from PiF no. 21)

76.  On average across OECD countries, around 4% of students are top performers in reading, science and mathematics. (from PiF no. 31)

77.  Just because a student performs well in core school subjects doesn’t mean that he or she is proficient in problem solving. (from PiF no. 38)

78.  On average across participating countries, 15% of students can, at best, make simple decisions about spending, and recognise the purpose of everyday financial documents, such as invoices. (from PiF no. 41)

79.  The most common online activities among 15-year-olds are browsing the Internet for fun and participating in social networks, with over 70% of students doing one of these every day or almost every day. (from PiF no. 59)

80.  More than one in four students, on average across OECD countries, score below the baseline level of proficiency in at least one of the core subjects assessed by PISA – reading, mathematics and science. (from PiF no. 60)

81.  Memorisation, as a learning strategy, may work with easy problems, but it is unlikely to be effective if it is the only strategy used when confronted with complex mathematics problems. (from PiF no. 61)

82.  In 2015, and for the first time, most participating students took the PISA test on computer. (from PiF no. 66)

83.  To solve a problem collaboratively, students need to be able to establish and maintain a shared understanding with others, take appropriate action to solve the problem, and establish and maintain team organisation. (from PiF no. 77)

84.  Between 2012 and 2015, the time that 15-year-old students reported spending on the Internet increased from 21 to 29 hours per week, on average across OECD countries. (from PiF no. 83)

85.  Students who access the Internet, chat or social networks outside of school collaborate better than students who do not engage in these activities, while students who play video games outside of school collaborate worse than students who do not play video games. (from PiF no. 84)

86.  About 23% of students across PISA for Development countries (Cambodia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Paraguay, Senegal and Zambia) attain the minimal level of proficiency in reading, compared with the OECD average of 80%. (from PiF no. 91)

87.  Environmentally aware students are more pessimistic about the future of Earth. (from PiF no. 87)

88.  In 2015, boys and low-achieving students held more optimistic views about solving environmental problems – like air pollution, and the extinction of plants and animals – than girls and students performing at or above the baseline level of proficiency in science. (from PiF no. 95)

Image: Mind Pro Studio (Shutterstock)

About students’ attitudes towards learning

89.  Reading for enjoyment every day is associated with better performance in PISA. (from PiF no. 8)

90.  Around one in four students expects to end his or her formal schooling at the upper secondary level and thus needs the skills to make a smooth transition into work and adulthood. (from PiF no. 23)

91.  Most students think that what they have learned in school is useful for them or their future. (from PiF no. 24)

92.  When students believe that investing effort in learning will make a difference, they score significantly higher in mathematics. (from PiF no. 37)

93.  On average across OECD countries, students who are highly motivated to learn mathematics because they believe it will help them later on score better in mathematics than students who are not highly motivated. (from PiF no. 39)

94.  The better a student’s schoolmates perform in mathematics, the greater the student’s anxiety towards mathematics. (from PiF no. 48)

95.  There is a strong connection between how confident students feel about being able to solve pure and applied mathematics problems, and whether or not they were exposed to similar problems in class. (from PiF no. 56)

96.  In 2012, around 32% of low performers said they give up on solving problems easily compared to only 13% of better-performing students who so reported. (from PiF no. 62)

97.  In 10 out of 13 countries and economies with available data, discussing money matters with parents at least sometimes is associated with higher financial literacy than never discussing the subject, after taking into account students’ socio-economic status. (from PiF no. 72)

98.  Test-related anxiety is widespread: nearly 60% of students worry about taking a test, and more than 60% worry about getting poor grades. (from PiF no. 79)

99.  Vigorous physical activity is positively related to students’ well-being. (from PiF no. 86)

100.  Motivation, particularly when it is a response to external incentives, is associated with anxiety. (from PiF no. 92)