PISA is a survey that has been conducted every three years since 2000 in 37 OECD countries and 44 partner countries. The previous study dates from 2018, the latest – which was presented this morning – is based on tests taken in 2022. Due to corona, a year has been skipped. In Flanders, 4,714 students from 172 schools participated. The tests focus on math, science and reading. The Flemish results are declining significantly for reading, mathematics and science. In each PISA study, one theme is examined in more depth and that year is then referred to as the reference year. For math this is 2003, for reading 2009, for science 2006.
The results are expressed in points. Converting the points into years of education is not easy. Internationally, 20 points is considered one year of education. A drop of 20 points would therefore mean a loss of one year. But since this benchmark has been calculated for all OECD countries, scientists from the Educational Sciences department of Ghent University – who are responsible for PISA in Flanders – do not consider this to be a reliable calculation.
The average performance of Flanders for mathematics is 501 points. Barely 7 countries score better. International leader is Singapore. That is very good, but at the same time a lot worse than in 2018. The 15-year-old toppers have lost 17 points in those four years. If we look at the long term, it appears that Flemish 15-year-olds will lose no less than 52 points between 2003 and 2022. A stronger decline than the OECD average (minus 22 points).
We are losing top performers and we are growing in the number of young people who have not mastered basic skills. In 2003 we still had 34 percent top performers, in 2022 this will have been slimmed down to 15 percent. According to researchers, this large difference can be explained by the fact that students were more often in courses with one hour of extra mathematics. In the same period, the number of low performers also doubled to 22 percent.
The average performance for Flanders for reading is 483 points, which puts Flanders in 14th place. The first one features – again – Singapore. Between reference year 2009 and 2022, the Flemish performance drops by no less than 36 points. That is a sharper decline from the OECD average of minus 17 points.
Flanders has 7.7 percent top performers in reading and almost 24 percent low performers.
The average performance of Flanders for sciences is 499 points. Flanders is in 11th place.
Between reference year 2006 and 2022, the Flemish performance decreased by 30 points. That is a sharper decline than the OECD average of minus 12 points.
For sciences, Flanders has 8.7 percent top performers and 20.9 percent low performers.
Strong versus weak students
The gap between strong and weak students is large in Flanders. There is a gap of no less than 260 points between the 10 percent strongest and the 10 percent weakest students. Much more than the OECD average of 235 points. That gap did not widen between 2018 and 2022. In mathematics and reading, the performance of both strong and weak students deteriorated significantly.
In most OECD countries, native students perform significantly better than students with a migration background. For the OECD, someone has a migration background if the student or both parents were born abroad. So if one parent was born here, that student is considered native. That is a stricter definition than is often used in other studies. Of the Flemish students who participated in the sample, 18 percent have a migration background, more than the OECD average of 13 percent. Flanders belongs to the group of countries with the largest gap between native students and students with a migration background, a difference of no less than 61 points (514 points for native students, 453 for students with a migration background). Adjusted for social origin, the gap reduces to 28 points. But if Dutch is spoken at home, the difference is no longer significant. “A bright spot,” says Education Minister Ben Weyts.