Top US students lag far behind top students around the world in 2012 PISA test results

Top U.S. students, those that are among the top 10 percent of the population, lag far behind the top students in the highest achieving countries, a gap that is far bigger than the gap between the bottom students in the United States and elsewhere. That’s if you measure it by the results of the 2012 PISA test, given to 15 year olds across the world.

I wanted to dig deeper into the 2012 PISA test results, released Dec. 3, 2013, to see not just how the average American 15-year-old performs, but how both extremes are faring. First, I isolated the top 10 percent of students (aka 90th percentile) in each of the 65 countries or subregions tested by the OECD and ranked their math scores. The top 10 percent here earned a score of 600, on average, putting the US in 34th place. That’s about the same ranking as the average US student, whose score of 481 places 36th among nations. But the score gaps at the top are bigger than I expected. Top US students are more than a 100 points below the top students in Shanghai Singapore and Taipei. That’s the equivalent of several years of schooling. By contrast, the bottom 10 percent of US students lag the bottom students of the top achieving regions by much less than 100 points (except for in Shanghai, where the bottom 10 percent of students approach the score of the average American 15 year old!)

I’d also like to emphasize that scores of the top 10 percent in the United States have been declining over the past decade. See this post.

Here follow charts for the top 10 percent, the bottom 10 percent. I took spreadsheets from the PISA report annex, filtered for 90th and 10th percentile scores, ranked them and deleted everything else. For reference, here’s a link to the global rankings, that list the average scores for each nation. See Table 1A, page 19.

2012 PISA Math Scores for the Top 10 Percent (90th Percentile)

Ranking Country or Subregion 90th Percentile Score
1 Shanghai-China 737
2 Singapore 707
3 Chinese Taipei 703
4 Hong Kong-China 679
5 Korea 679
6 Macao-China 657
7 Japan 657
8 Liechtenstein 656
9 Switzerland 651
10 Belgium 646
11 Netherlands 638
12 Germany 637
13 Poland 636
14 Canada 633
15 New Zealand 632
16 Australia 630
17 Finland 629
18 Estonia 626
19 Slovenia 624
20 Austria 624
21 France 621
22 Czech Republic 621
23 United Kingdom 616
24 Luxembourg 613
25 Slovak Republic 613
26 Iceland 612
27 Portugal 610
28 Ireland 610
29 Denmark 607
30 Italy 607
31 Norway 604
32 Israel 603
33 Hungary 603
34 United States 600
35 Spain 597
36 Latvia 597
37 Lithuania 596
38 Sweden 596
39 Russian Federation 595
40 Croatia 589
41 Dubai (UAE) 587
42 Turkey 577
43 Serbia 567
44 Greece 567
45 Bulgaria 565
46 Romania 553
47 United Arab Emirates – Ex. Dubai 538
48 Thailand 535
49 Chile 532
50 Malaysia 530
51 Kazakhstan 527
52 Uruguay 526
53 Montenegro 520
54 Qatar 514
55 Mexico 510
56 Albania 510
57 Costa Rica 496
58 Brazil 495
59 Tunisia 488
60 Argentina 488
61 Jordan 485
62 Peru 478
63 Colombia 474
64 Indonesia 469
Annex B1
Version 1 – Last updated: 26-Nov-2013
Table I.2.3d
Distribution of scores in mathematics in PISA 2003 through 2012, by percentiles

2012 PISA Math Scores for the Bottom 10 Percent (10th Percentile)

Rankings Country or Subregion 10th Percentile Score
1 Shanghai-China 475
2 Singapore 432
3 Chinese Taipei 402
4 Hong Kong-China 430
5 Korea 425
6 Macao-China 415
7 Japan 415
8 Liechtenstein 403
9 Switzerland 408
10 Belgium 378
11 Netherlands 397
12 Germany 385
13 Poland 402
14 Canada 402
15 New Zealand 371
16 Australia 382
17 Finland 409
18 Estonia 417
19 Slovenia 384
20 Austria 384
21 France 365
22 Czech Republic 377
23 United Kingdom 371
24 Luxembourg 363
25 Slovak Republic 352
26 Iceland 372
27 Portugal 363
28 Ireland 391
29 Denmark 393
30 Italy 366
31 Norway 373
32 Israel 328
33 Hungary 358
34 United States 368
35 Spain 370
36 Latvia 387
37 Lithuania 364
38 Sweden 360
39 Russian Federation 371
40 Croatia 360
41 Dubai (UAE) 342
42 Turkey 339
43 Serbia 335
44 Greece 338
45 Bulgaria 320
46 Romania 344
47 United Arab Emirates – Ex. Dubai 318
48 Thailand 328
49 Chile 323
50 Malaysia 319
51 Kazakhstan 343
52 Uruguay 297
53 Montenegro 306
54 Qatar 257
55 Mexico 320
56 Albania 278
57 Costa Rica 323
58 Brazil 298
59 Tunisia 292
60 Argentina 292
61 Jordan 290
62 Peru 264
63 Colombia 285
64 Indonesia 288
Annex B1
Version 1 – Last updated: 26-Nov-2013
Table I.2.3d

Related stories:

Top US students decline, bottom students improve on international PISA math test

U.S. private school students not much better than public school students in math

Top US students fare poorly in international PISA test scores, Shanghai tops the world, Finland slips


POSTED BY Jill Barshay ON December 6, 2013

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