PISA Results: Which Countries Improved Most?

Today, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). PISA is a triennial international survey which aims to evaluate education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students. In 2015, over half a million students in 72 countries and economies were assessed in science, mathematics and reading.

Just as in the recently released TIMSS results, Singapore led the world in every subject, outperforming other economies and countries by a significant margin, with mean scores of 556, 564 and 535 in science, math and reading.

Other top-performing economies in science include Japan, Estonia, Chinese Taipei and Finland. Other top-performing economies in math include Hong Kong (China), Macao (China), Chinese Taipei and Japan. Other top-performers in reading include Canada, Hong Kong (China), Finland and Ireland.



Vietnam continues to perform very well, especially in science, managing to enter the top 10, just below Canada and above Hong Kong and the four Chinese provinces and cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Guangdong).

Since the first round in 2000, no country has improved more than Peru: 64 points in science, 95 in math and 71 in reading. Between 2000 and 2012, the following countries have recorded the highest increase in science scores:

Peru 64 333 to 397
Albania 51 376 to 427
Portugal 42 459 to 501
Luxembourg 40 443 to 483
Israel 33 434 to 467
Chile 32 415 to 447
Latvia 30 460 to 490
Russia 27 460 to 487
Brazil 26 375 to 401
Germany 22 487 to 509

In math:

Peru 95 292 to 387
Brazil 43 334 to 377
Luxembourg 40 446 to 486
Chile 39 384 to 423
Portugal 38 454 to 492
Israel 37 433 to 470
Poland 34 470 to 504
Italy 33 457 to 490
Albania 32 381 to 413
Mexico 21 387 to 408

In reading:

Peru 71 327 to 398
Albania 56 349 to 405
Chile 49 410 to 459
Luxembourg 40 441 to 481
Russia 33 462 to 495
Latvia 30 458 to 488
Portugal 28 470 to 498
Poland 27 479 to 506
Israel 27 452 to 479
Indonesia 26 371 to 397

Since the last round of PISA, in 2012, these countries witnessed the biggest improvements:

Science Math Reading
Qatar 34 Qatar 26 Uruguay 26
Albania 30 Peru 19 Slovenia 24
Peru 24 Albania 19 Colombia 22
Indonesia 21 Sweden 16 Russia 20
Uruguay 19 Colombia 14 Chile 18
Colombia 17 Norway 13 Sweden 17
Portugal 12 Russia 12 Qatar 14
Chinese Taipei 9 Denmark 11 Peru 14
Macao (China) 8 Indonesia 11 Albania 11
Sweden 8 Slovenia 9 Portugal 10

Kazakhstan and Malaysia improved significantly as well – in science 31 and 23 points, in math 28 and 25 points, in reading 34 and 33 points. But their scores come with footnotes since “overage is too small to ensure comparability,” according to the OECD. Nevertheless, these gains are impressive in such a short time, not only in Kazakhstan and Malaysia, but also in Albania, Colombia, Peru, Slovenia, Qatar and Uruguay. Overall the biggest improvements occurred in Qatar, Albania and Peru:


These are impressive gains and testimony to the great efforts that teachers, students and parents put into learning every day. They are also inspiring because they show that improvement happens in rich and poor countries, throughout the world. This is true for the PISA results presented here today and for the TIMSS 2015 results released late November.

The rich data that underlies these indicators will allow policy makers and researchers to analyze education systems. A lot can be learned, but it must be through rigorous analysis of the data. As Henry Levin put it, PISA is “not a statistical study that isolates cause and effect.” But modeling and hypothesis testing can help show causal effects, as was done with Poland’s PISA data.

Follow Harry Anthony Patrinos on Twitter at @hpatrinos.

Categories PISA, Returns to education, Shanghai, TIMSS

2 thoughts on “PISA Results: Which Countries Improved Most?

  1. The last paragraph presents a very good point. PISA also publishes additional analysis of the results, drawing conclusions on the common characteristics associated with higher (or lower) results. However, as you suggest in this post, to understand the links between results and policies requires rigourous statistical and econometric analysis. Thanks for pointing this out.

    Liked by 1 person

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