Norway Left Behind Denmark and Finland in New PISA Survey

Today, findings from the international PISA survey in 2012, which maps the 15-year-old school students’ knowledge of mathematics, science and reading in the OECD countries, was published.

According to the result of the survey, Norwegian students perform around average in mathematics, above average in reading, but below average in science. 

Here are some highlights from the latest PISA Survey:

Norway’s mean performance in mathematics declined since the previous PISA assessment in 2009. Since 2003, however, Norway’s performance did not change significantly.

• The share of low performers in mathematics is close to the OECD average. It increased from 2009 to 2012, but is unchanged when compared with 2003. The share of top performers in mathematics is below the OECD average. It is comparable with the share in 2009, but lower than in 2003.

• Although Norway’s reading performance dipped in 2006, results between 2000 and 2012 are relatively stable.

• The level of equity in education is high in Norway and has improved since 2003. A relatively small part of the variation of performance can be attributed to differences in students’ socio-economic status.

• The learning environment in Norwegian schools has improved over the past ten years. While teacher-student relations are still less positive in Norway than on average across OECD countries, relations improved between 2003 and 2012. Other aspects of the learning environment, such as the disciplinary climate in classrooms, have also improved in Norway since 2003.

Students in Norway score 489 in mathematics on average. This is around the OECD average. Norway is listed 22nd in mathematics among the 34 OECD countries, but because results are based on a sample, its relative position could be between 19 and 25. Norway’s results are comparable with those of France, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Portugal, the Russian Federation, the Slovak Republic, Spain, the United Kingdom and United States.

• Norway’s mean performance declined from 498 points to 489 points since PISA 2009. Over a longer time span, however, Norway’s performance has remained relatively stable, despite minor fluctuations: 2012 results are not significantly different from the results obtained in 2003.

When comparing performance among the Nordic countries, students in Norway perform below students in Finland and Denmark, above students in Sweden, and not significantly different from students in Iceland.

Gender differences in mathematics performance

• Norwegian girls and boys perform at around the same level in mathematics, while on average across OECD countries, boys outperform girls by 11 points.

• When comparing gender differences in mathematics performance among the other Nordic countries, boys and girls also perform at similar levels in Sweden and Finland. In Denmark boys outperform girls, while Iceland is the only OECD country where girls outperform boys in mathematics.

Mean reading performance

• Students in Norway score 504 points in reading, on average. This is above the OECD average. Norway is listed 15th in reading among the 34 OECD countries, but because results are based on a sample, its relative position could be between 11 and 17. Norway’s results are comparable with those of Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Macao-China, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States and Viet Nam.

• Norway’s reading performance in 2012 is not significantly different from that observed in 2009. Although Norway’s reading score dipped in 2006, its results are relatively stable when looking at the longer trend from 2000 to 2012.

• When comparing reading performance among the Nordic countries, Norway performs below Finland, above Iceland and Sweden, and not significantly different from Denmark.

Gender differences in reading performance

• Girls outperform boys in reading by an average of 46 score points. This gender gap is unchanged since the first PISA assessment in 2000.

• In all OECD countries, including the five Nordic countries, girls outperform boys in reading. The largest gender difference is observed in Finland where girls perform 62 points higher than boys, on average, while the average difference between girls and boys across OECD countries is 38 points.

Mean science performance

• Students in Norway score 495 points in science on average. This is below the OECD average. Norway is listed 22nd in science among the 34 OECD countries, but because results are based on a sample, its relative position could be between 19 and 26. Norway’s results are comparable with those of Croatia, Denmark, France, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Portugal, the Russian Federation, Spain and the United States.

• Norway’s average performance in 2012 is not significantly different from its performance in 2009 and in 2006.

• When comparing science performance among the Nordic countries, Norway performs below Finland, above Iceland and Sweden, and not significantly different from Denmark.

Gender differences in science performance

• In Norway, as well as on average across OECD countries, girls and boys perform at similar levels in science.

When comparing gender differences in science performance across the Nordic countries, boys and girls also perform at similar levels in Iceland. In Finland and Sweden, girls outperform boys, while in Denmark boys outperform girls.

Equity and performance

• Only 7% of the variation in student performance in mathematics is attributed to differences in students’ socio-economic status (the OECD average is 15%).

• The level of equity has improved in Norway since 2003, when 12% of the variation in student performance in mathematics was attributed to differences in students’ socio-economic status.

• The other Nordic countries also show high levels of equity, except Denmark, where the variation in student performance explained by students’ socio-economic status is around the average level among OECD countries.

• While Norway has high levels of equity and student performance is around average, some countries and economies, including Australia, Canada, Estonia, Finland, Hong Kong-China, Japan, Korea, Liechtenstein and Macao-China, achieve both high levels of equity and high performance.

Immigrant students

• The share of 15-year-old students in Norway with an immigrant background (first- or second-generation immigrants) increased from 5.6% in 2003 to 9.4% in 2012. The difference in mathematics performance between immigrant and other students is 46 points, around the same level as in 2003.

Expenditure on education

• Norway has the third highest spending on education among OECD countries, with a cumulative expenditure per student between 6 and 15 years at USD 123 591. Luxembourg and Switzerland have the highest levels of expenditure on education. The OECD average is USD 83 382.

• Expenditure per student explains 30% of the variation in mean performance between countries. However, moderate or high spending per student cannot automatically be equated with a poor or high performance. For example, the Slovak Republic, which spends USD 53 160 per student, performs at the same level as the United States, which spends USD 115 961 per student. Similarly, Korea, the highest-performing OECD country in mathematics, spends well below the average per-student expenditure.

What is PISA?

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an ongoing triennial survey that assesses the extent to which 15-year-olds students near the end of compulsory education have acquired key knowledge and skills that are essential for full participation in modern societies. The assessment does not just ascertain whether students can reproduce knowledge; it also examines how well students can extrapolate from what they have learned and apply that knowledge in unfamiliar settings, both in and outside of school. This approach reflects the fact that modern economies reward individuals not for what they know, but for what they can do with what they know.

PISA offers insights for education policy and practice, and helps monitor trends in students’ acquisition of knowledge and skills across countries and in different demographic subgroups within each country. The findings allow policy makers around the world to gauge the knowledge and skills of students in their own countries in comparison with those in other countries, set policy targets against measurable goals achieved by other education systems, and learn from policies and practices applied elsewhere.

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