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News, 12/3/2013

PISA 2012: Proficiency of Finnish youth declining

Average mathematical literacy among Finnish school students ranked in twelfth place among the 65 participating countries in the PISA 2012 assessment. In 2003, when mathematics was previously the focus of study, Finland came in second place. The national average score in mathematics has decreased significantly since the 2003 assessment. Reading and science literacy have also deteriorated markedly.

Photo: Team Finland/Riitta SupperiPhoto: Team Finland/Riitta Supperi

Despite the clear downturn, Finnish students remain one of the best performers among the OECD countries. Finland came in sixth place among the OECD countries in mathematics, third in literacy and second in science. Finland remains the best in literacy and science among the European countries.

Assessment focussed on mathematics

Finland’s national average in mathematics (519 points) has fallen by 25 points since the PISA 2003 assessment, which corresponds to over six months’ school year progress. In terms of the top tier countries in the 2003 study, Finland’s average score has decreased the most, and the trend gives cause for serious concern. The percentage of weak performers in mathematics has risen from 7% to 12% in Finland while that of high mathematics performers has dropped from 23% to 15%.

There were seven countries and economies from Asia among the best-performing countries in the PISA 2012 assessment. Top performers in earlier PISA studies, such as Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Korea, further improved their performance in this survey. In Europe, Finland was outperformed by Liechtenstein, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Estonia.

In Finland, high proficiency in mathematics is related to the motivation of young people and their attitudes to studying and learning mathematics. Interest in mathematics, self-related belief in the ability to learn and confidence in being able to perform mathematical tasks are among the factors that account for variation in student performance in mathematics in Finland more so than in the OECD on average.

’The general downturn in learning outcomes shows that we must take strong action to develop Finnish education. I will be setting up a broad-based forum without delay to work on safeguarding the future of the Finnish system of basic education. We will bring in not only experts in research and education and political decision-makers but also student representatives and parents,’ said Krista Kiuru, Minister of Education and Science.

’Earlier assessments have already signalled declining learning outcomes, where attitudes towards school have become less positive among students and society alike. Besides strengthening equality, we must find means to improve and sustain motivation in learning and studying and make schools a good environment to be in,’ observed Krista Kiuru.

Proficiency in reading and science literacy high – but edging down

Finland’s average score in reading literacy ranked in sixth place among all participating countries and economies and in third place among all OECD countries. Only five Asian countries and economies outperformed Finland: Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and Korea. Relative to previous surveys where the focus was on reading literacy (2000 and 2009), Finland’s average score has decreased considerably, by as much as 22 points from the 2000 assessment.

Finland’s proficiency in scientific literacy ranked in fifth place among all participating countries and economies. Finland’s position was among the best in the OECD countries along with Japan, Estonia and Korea. Finland’s average scientific literacy has dropped by 18 points relative to the 2006 survey, when the focus was on science.

Gender differences and differences between schools and regions still very small

In Finland, gender differences in mathematical literacy are minimal. This is the first time girls outperformed boys. The average score for girls was 520 points and for boys it was 517 points.

Differences in mathematical literacy between schools are still only minor, and the spread in performance across different parts of the country is very even in all three assessment categories. However, this is the first time in Finland that there was a group of schools where the results fell below the OECD average. Compared with 2003, when the focus of the assessment was on mathematics, the variation between schools rose by about 2 percentage points. The effect of socio-economic factors among students also rose slightly.

’I’m particularly concerned not only about the decrease in the overall level but also about the growing disparities and about the rapid decline in outcomes among low performers,’ said Minister Kiuru.

Student performance in mathematics in Swedish-speaking schools in Finland was roughly the same as in Finnish-speaking schools. Finnish-speaking students have outperformed their Swedish-speaking fellow students in mathematics in all earlier PISA surveys.

Student performance in reading and scientific literacy was better in Finnish-speaking schools than in Swedish-speaking ones. By international standards in the survey, student performance in Finland’s Swedish-speaking schools was good in all assessment categories, and better than in the rest of the Nordic countries.

Altogether 65 countries and economies in the PISA 2012 assessment

The OECD Programme for International Student Assessment assesses the learning outcomes in literacy, mathematics and science performance of 15-year-old students every three years. The focus in the assessment rotates every study year. In 2003 and 2012 the focus was on mathematics. This is the first time it is possible to assess developments in proficiency in mathematics in a reliable way.

In Finland, the sample for the PISA 2012 assessment was collected from 311 schools and 10,157 students were randomly selected from these schools for the survey. Altogether 90% of the sample students took part in the PISA assessment. The survey was carried out by the Finnish Institute for Educational Research of the University of Jyväskylä.

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Updated 12/3/2013

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