At school we are doing worse and worse. Covid is to blame, but not only: the average performance of students in OECD countries in mathematics, reading and science continues to go in the wrong direction. Stubborn and contrary. It’s the alarm launched by the latest edition of the Pisa surveyacronym for Programme for International Student Assessment, designed to assess the knowledge and skills of 15-year-old students. According to the report, overall the students who took part in the survey in 2022 are less competent than those tested by Pisa ten years ago.
Circa 25% of 15-year-olds in OECD member countries – around 16 million in total – are estimated to have low achievement in maths, reading and science, an estimate that includes students not covered by Pisa. The situation is even worse among many non-OECD members: in 18 countries more than 60% of 15-year-olds performed poorly in all three subjects. The investigation seems to confirm that the pandemic, which led to the temporary suspension of lessons and then to long months of distance learning, has had a devastating impact on student results. But it is not the only element to consider: the OECD has in fact detected a long-term trend. Reading and science performance has been declining for some time, after reaching a maximum point between 2009 and 2012.
In terms of rankings, Singaporean students placed first in all subjects even with improvements in mathematics and science compared to a worsening in reading. Asian countries lead the mathematics ranking: behind Singapore there are Macau, Taipei, Hong Kong, Japan and Korea. Italy is 30th.
In reading the top five behind Singapore includes Ireland, Japan, Korea and Taipei while Italy is 20th. In science, Italy ranks 33rd, light years away from the usual Singapore, Japan, Macao, Taipei and Korea. By comparison, among other large European nations, Germany’s 15-year-old students ranked 25th in math and 22nd in reading and science. For French people of the same age, 26th place in mathematics, 29th in reading and 26th in science.
After the pandemic, Italy goes back ten years
Italy first participated in Pisa in 2000. In mathematics, the decline noted between 2018 and 2022 reversed most of the improvements observed in previous years and the average scores returned close to those observed in 2003 and 2006. In reading, the average yield remained close not only to the value observed in 2018, but also to that of all previous surveys. The overall trend in reading achievement over more than two decades can be described as stable. In science the average score has increased in the last period and is back in line with that of 2015, but the level is still lower than that of 2012.
The highest scores in high school, followed by technical and professional scores
High schools achieved higher average scores than other types of education in all three areas: mathematics, reading and science. Followed by technical institutes and professional education and training. According to the survey conducted in Italy by Invalsi in high schools and technical institutes, in mathematics, reading and science, more than two thirds of students have reached the basic or higher level of competence. The percentages range from a minimum of 67% in technical institutes in mathematics, to a maximum of 90% in high schools in reading. In vocational institutes and vocational training the percentage of these students ranges from a minimum of 36% in mathematics to a maximum of 52% in reading. Overall, in vocational colleges and vocational training the percentage of students below Level 2 – i low perfomer – in mathematics, reading and science it is more than double that recorded in technical institutes and high schools. In fact, i low performer they exceed 60% in math and reading, and in science they exceed 50%. The percentage of students top performer tends to decrease, in all areas, from high schools to professional training. In the latter sector, less than 1% of students reach the highest levels of proficiency, while in high schools i top performer in mathematics I am 10%.
The boys are “strongest” in mathematics, the girls in reading. In the South only 3% of 15-year-olds are top performers in mathematics
Gender differences continue for mathematics and reading, while boys and girls achieved similar scores in science. As for mathematics, the boys outscored the girls by 21 points. This difference is the highest ever among all participating countries. Conversely, in reading, girls scored 19 points higher than boys. Compared to the previous cycle, these differences remained essentially stable. Both in the different geographical macro-areas and in the different fields of study, boys obtained a higher score in mathematics than girls. For reading, with the exception of the North West and high schools, girls showed better performance than boys.
The differences between North and South
More than 80% of students in the Northern areas are at Level 2 or above in both mathematics, reading and science. While, in the southern areas, the students who were placed in level 2 or higher are just over 60% in science, around 70% in reading and around 55% in mathematics. As regards the levels of excellence, in the North West more than 10% of students were placed in the category of top performer in mathematics. In the southern areas, the percentage of these students is around 3%.
German students have never been so bad
In 2022, German pupils achieved the worst results ever in the international comparison of the OECD’s Pisa report. In reading, mathematics and science, Germany achieved the lowest scores ever measured.