The following overview is the excerpts and notes of numerous reports and publications on PISA 2018 results.These notes are taken byBrijesh Kumar, Ph.D. and any descripencies or comments could be sent to him at bk (@) reading!

Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)

Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) was launched in 2000. PISA 2018 was the seventh round of the international assessment.Every PISA test assesses students knowledge and skills in reading, mathematics and science; each assessment focuses on one of these subjects.


  • 600,000 students representing about 32 million 15-year-olds in the schools of 79 participating countries appeared for PISA test in 2018.
  • Countries that outperformed in Math and Science: China(B-S-J-Z) - L4, Singapore, Macao, Estonia, Canada, Finland -L3.
  • 10% students from disadvantaged background outperformed in reading skills from above countries compared to OECD countries.
  • 10% most advantaged are similar to OECD countries.
  • 1/10 could not distinguish between a fact and an opinion in OECD countries.
  • Increasingly positive countries: Jordan, macao, Russia.
  • Steady positive growth countries: Estonia, Portugal.
  • Positive and flattening:
  • Increasingly negative: Korea, Netherlands, Thailand.
  • Steadily negative: Australia, Newzealand.
  • Negative and flattening: Sweden.
  • Other facts:

2000-2018 Journey

  • Demand on reading skills changed. With the advent of mobile smartphone devices, new ways of comprehension are needed.
  • Print books with one answer to solutions changed into digital books and the internet offering many answers. It has become important to decifer truw and false information.
  • It's no longer just extracting information, but contructing knowledge, thinking critically, and ascertaining a well-founded judgement have become important as 21st century skills.
  • Simple to teach materials are easier to digitaize and automate, however many EdTech companies merely digitaizing would not resolve need for high quality instructions.
  • In this age of AI, we have to think harder how to make first-class humans.
  • How to pair AI with Cognitive Skills + SE Skills + Dispositions.
  • AI is ethically neutral. It amplifies good ideas. It may also amplify bad ideas and practices.

Student Competencies and Gaps

What can students do in reading?

  • Reading proficiency is essential for a wide variety of human activities - from following instructions in a manual; to figuring out the who, what, when, where and why of a situation; to the many ways of communicating with others for a specific purpose or transaction.
  • Reading is a component of many other domains of knowledge. For example, real-life problems often require people to draw on their knowledge of mathematics and science, the two other core subjects that PISA tests. Yet in order to do so, people have to be able to read well to obtain the information they need, whether that means reading the nutritional labels on prepared food or comparing car-insurance contracts.
  • People also need to engage in the critical and analytical thinking inherent in reading as they make use of written information for their own purposes.
  • Some 77% of students, on average across OECD countries, attained at least Level 2 proficiency in reading. At a minimum, these students are able to identify the main idea in a text of moderate length, find information based on explicit, though sometimes complex, criteria, and reflect on the purpose and form of texts when explicitly directed to do so. Over 85% of students in Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang (China), Canada, Estonia, Finland, Hong Kong (China), Ireland, Macao (China), Poland and Singapore performed at this level or above.
  • Around 8.7% of students, on average across OECD countries, were top performers in reading, meaning that they attained Level 5 or 6 in the PISA reading test. At these levels, students are able to comprehend lengthy texts, deal with concepts that are abstract or counterintuitive, and establish distinctions between fact and opinion, based on implicit cues pertaining to the content or source of the information. In 20 education systems, including those of 15 OECD countries, over 10% of 15-year-old students were top performers.
  • In previous PISA cycles, the reading scale was divided into a range of proficiency levels. Seven of these levels – Levels 1b, 1a, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, in ascending order of proficiency – were used to describe reading proficiency in PISA 2009, 2012 and 2015. While the score cut-offs between reading proficiency levels have not changed, the descriptions for all proficiency levels were updated to reflect new aspects of reading that were assessed for the first time in 2018.
  • At Level 2, students begin to demonstrate the capacity to use their reading skills to acquire knowledge and solve a wide range of practical problems. Students who do not attain Level 2 proficiency in reading often have difficulty when confronted with material that is unfamiliar to them or that is of moderate length and complexity. They usually need to be prompted with cues or instructions before they can engage with a text. In the context of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, Level 2 proficiency has been identified as the "minimum level of proficiency" that all children should acquire by the end of secondary education.

What can students do in mathematics?

The PISA assessment of mathematics focuses on measuring students' capacity to formulate, use and interpret mathematics in a variety of contexts. These include not only familiar settings related to personal experience, such as when preparing food, shopping or watching sports, but also occupational, societal and scientific contexts, such as costing a project, interpreting national statistics or modelling natural phenomena. To succeed on the PISA test, students must be able to reason mathematically and use mathematical concepts, procedures, facts and tools to describe, explain and predict phenomena. Competence in mathematics, as defined in PISA, assists individuals in recognising the role that mathematics plays in the world and in making the well-founded judgements and decisions needed to be constructive, engaged and reflective citizens (OECD, 2019).

  • On average across OECD countries, 76% of students attained Level 2 or higher in mathematics. At a minimum, these students can interpret and recognise, without direct instructions, how a (simple) situation can be represented mathematically (e.g. comparing the total distance across two alternative routes, or converting prices into a different currency). However, in 24 countries and economies, more than 50% of students scored below this level of proficiency.
  • Six Asian countries and economies had the largest shares of students who scored at Level 5 or higher in mathematics: Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang (China) (44%), Singapore (37%), Hong Kong (China) (29%), Macao (China) (28%), Chinese Taipei (23%) and Korea (21%). These students can model complex situations mathematically, and can select, compare and evaluate appropriate problem-solving strategies for dealing with them.
  • Six Asian countries and economies had the largest shares of students who scored at Level 5 or higher in mathematics: Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang (China) (44%), Singapore (37%), Hong Kong (China) (29%), Macao (China) (28%), Chinese Taipei (23%) and Korea (21%). These students can model complex situations mathematically, and can select, compare and evaluate appropriate problem-solving strategies for dealing with them.
  • Compared to countries of similar average performance in PISA, Germany and Korea have a larger share of students who performed at the highest levels of mathematics proficiency, but also of students who performed at the lowest levels. This reflects the wide variation in mathematics performance within these countries.
  • The six proficiency levels used in the PISA 2018 mathematics assessment were the same as those established for the PISA 2003 and 2012 assessments, when mathematics was the major area of assessment.
  • At Level 6, students can conceptualise, generalise and utilise information based on their investigations and modelling of complex problem situations, and can use their knowledge in relatively non-standard contexts. They can link different information sources and representations together and flexibly translate amongst them. Students at this level are capable of advanced mathematical thinking and reasoning. These students can apply this insight and understanding, along with a mastery of symbolic and formal mathematical operations and relationships, to develop new approaches and strategies for attacking novel situations. Students at this level can reflect on their actions, and can formulate and precisely communicate their actions and reflections regarding their findings, interpretations, arguments and the appropriateness of these to the original situation.

What can students do in science?

The PISA assessment of science focuses on measuring students' ability to engage with science-related issues and with the ideas of science, as reflective citizens. Engaging in reasoned discourse about science and science-based technology requires a sound knowledge of facts and theories to explain phenomena scientifically. It also requires knowledge of the standard methodological procedures used in science, and knowledge of the reasons and ideas used by scientists to justify their claims, in order to evaluate (or design) scientific enquiry and to interpret evidence scientifically.

  • On average across OECD countries, 78% of students attained Level 2 or higher in science. At a minimum, these students can recognise the correct explanation for familiar scientific phenomena and can use such knowledge to identify, in simple cases, whether a conclusion is valid based on the data provided. More than 90% of students in Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang (China) (97.9%), Macao (China) (94.0%), Estonia (91.2%) and Singapore (91.0%) achieved this benchmark.
  • On average across OECD countries, 6.8% of students were top performers in science in 2018, meaning that they were proficient at Level 5 or 6. Almost one in three (32%) students in Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang (China), and more than one in five students in Singapore (21%) performed at this level. In addition to skills associated with lower proficiency levels, these students can creatively and autonomously apply their knowledge of and about science to a wide variety of situations, including unfamiliar ones.
  • To help interpret what students' scores mean in substantive terms, the scale is divided into levels of proficiency that indicate the kinds of tasks that students at those levels are capable of completing successfully.
  • The seven proficiency levels used in the PISA 2018 science assessment were the same as those established for the PISA 2015 assessment.
  • Level 2 in science is an important benchmark for student performance:it represents the level of achievement, on the PISA scale, at which students begin to demonstrate the science competences that will enable them to engage in reasoned discourse about science and technology.
  • At Level 2, the attitudes and competences required to engage effectively with science-related issues are only just emerging.
  • Students demonstrate basic or everyday scientific knowledge, and a basic understanding of scientific enquiry, which they can apply mostly in familiar contexts.
  • Students' skills progressively expand to less familiar contexts, and to more complex knowledge and understanding at higher levels of proficiency.

Trends in Mean Performance

Note: m: Math, r: Reading; s: Science.

  • Improving Trends: Singapore (rms), Albania (ms), Colombia (rm), Macao (China) (r), Moldova (rms), Peru (ms), Portugal, Qatar (rm)
  • Non-significant Trends: Estonia (rm), Israel (m), Montenegro (rm), Poland (rm), Romania (rm), Russia, Serbia (rm), Jordan (rm), Chile (m)
  • Declining Trends: Germany(s), Belgium (s), Canada (s), the Czech Republic (s), Hungary (s), Switzerland (s), Australia (r), Finland (r), Iceland (r), Korea (r), the Netherlands (r), New Zealand (r), the Slovak Republic (r)

School Systems and Equity

  • Socio-economically advantaged students usually perform better in PISA than disadvantaged students, but the gap in reading performance related to socio-economic status varies considerably across countries. In PISA 2018, advantaged students outperformed disadvantaged students in reading by 89 score points. Nine years earlier, in PISA 2009, this gap related to socio-economic status, was 87 score points.
  • In 11 countries and economies, including the OECD countries Australia, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Japan, Korea, Norway and the United Kingdom, average performance was higher than the OECD average while the relationship between socio-economic status and reading performance was weaker than the OECD average.
  • On average across OECD countries, 17.4% of advantaged students, but only 2.9% of disadvantaged students were top performers in reading, meaning that they attained Level 5 or 6 in the PISA reading test. Amongst the 23 countries and economies where the proportions of top performers were larger than the OECD average, the socio-economic disparities in top performance were smallest in Macao (China) and largest in France.
  • Many students, especially disadvantaged students, hold lower ambitions than would be expected given their academic achievement. On average across OECD countries, only seven in ten high-achieving disadvantaged students reported that they expect to complete tertiary education, while nine in ten high-achieving advantaged students reported so.
  • A large proportion of students, particularly disadvantaged students, held expectations of a future career that were not aligned with their expectations of further education. At least one in three disadvantaged students who saw themselves working as professionals or managers at the age of 30 did not expect to attain a tertiary degree.
  • On average across OECD countries, more than two in five disadvantaged students reported that they do not know how to find information about student financing (e.g. student loans or grants).

The Key Focus Areas

  • High Quality Instructions: Quality of schools will feed into economies of tomorrow.
  • Equity: Equitable learning opportunities to all strata of students.
  • Efficiency: Efficient resource utilization; supply of skills that will fuel the economic growth and promote social cohesion.
  • Fostering Growth Mindset: General self-sufficiency; setting learning goals; perceiving the value of school.
  • Aligning education with Career Aspirations.
  • School Life, Student Life: An environment that nurtures students' well-being.

Key Challenges for India and other new entrants

  • India participated in the 2009 round but pulled out after being ranked 72nd among 73 countries.
  • India is preparing for the eight round of PISA 2021 and students from the Kendriya Vidyalayas across the country and students in Chandigarh are being trained to answer PISA-style questions.
  • PISA finds that unless disadvantaged schools are allocated sufficient resources to compensate for their shortfalls, social and academic segregation between schools may widen the gaps in outcomes related to socio-economic status.
  • The per child unit cost in government-run Kendriya Vidyalaya schools for central government employees in transferable jobs is INR 27,000 per child compared to INR 7,613 and INR 9,583 per child average cost in government schools of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar respectively.
  • PISA results show that there is a positive relationship between investment in education and average performance.
  • Effective school systems provide sufficient material and staff resources to all schools, including disadvantaged schools.
  • India needs to do more to restore the dignity of the teaching profession.
  • Many of the countries with high performance on PISA have to an extent found ways to delink student socio-economic status from reading performance. These are countries have consciously created more equal educational systems. For example, 22 countries and economies saw improvements in the average reading amongst the lowest-performing 10% of students; none of them saw a decline in average performance and 14 saw improvements.