GENERAL EDUCATION OECD
PISA
PISA 2003 results
Young Finns still at the OECD top in mathematical literacy
Finnish 15yearold students, who are in the final year of their basic education, are
the best in mathematical literacy in the whole OECD. The same level of mathematical
proficiency was found in the OECD countries Korea, The Netherlands and Japan and in the
PISA partner countries Hong KongChina and Liechtenstein. Mathematical literacy was
statistically significantly lower in the other participating countries than in Finland.
Judged by the average results, there has been positive development in young Finns'
mathematical literacy since PISA 2000. Young Finns' average score in mathematical literacy
(544) is 8 point higher in PISA 2003 than in PISA 2000.
Young Finns reached a high level in all the measured aspects of mathematical skills,
but their best area was quantitative reasoning. Despite these good mathematical skills,
Finland will have to pay more attention to spatial and geometric skills in the years to
come.
Finnish students' learning outcomes in mathematics are also characterised by a fairly
uniform performance. Variation in learning outcome was again smallest in Finland. The
Finnish results show that it is possible to achieve a high level of mathematical skills
without extreme differences between the lowest and highestperforming students. Although
the variation in skills was negligible in Finland compared with the other countries, there
are differences in learning outcome in Finland as well. The students are placed at six
proficiency levels according to score points, with Level 2 marking the minimum base level
at which the student has adequate mathematical knowledge and skills for coping with the
demands of today's and tomorrow's society.
In Finland 93% of students perform mathematical tasks at least at Level 2, as compared
to the OECD percentage of 79%. Finland had a smaller percentage (6%) of inadequately or
poorly performing students that any other OECD country. The highest Level 6 was attained
by 25% of Finnish students, and some 50% performed at Level 4 or above.
The reason for Finland's good overall performance was that it had the smallest
percentage of poorly performing students in the OECD. The proportion of lowperfumers on
the "space and shape" scale was a little larger than in the other performance
areas in mathematics, in which the average variation was 12%.
Gender differences in mathematical literacy were fairly small in Finland. In
mathematics boys traditionally outperform girls and the difference tends to grow towards
higher yearclasses. The overall difference in girls' and boys' performance scores was
only 7 points in Finland.
The students' socioeconomic background correlates with learning outcome in
mathematics. Children from the highest socioeconomic families outperform their less
advantaged peers in all the participating countries. In Finland the impact of the family
background was smaller than in the other OECD countries.
Differences across schools were smallest in Finland and in Iceland. Variation in school
performance was very small in Finland (5%). Mathematical literacy is spread evenly across
the country. One intriguing finding was that young Finns reported lower interest in and
enjoyment of mathematics than young people in the OECD countries on average. Finnish boys
were more interested in mathematics than girls.
Development of performance scores in mathematical
literacy, PISA 2000 and PISA 2003 

PISA 2000 
PISA 2003 
Finland 
536 
544 
Nordic countries 
514 
515 
OECD 
500 
500 
EU 
491 
475 
United States 
493 
483 
Japan 
557 
534 
Young Finns best in reading literacy in the OECD
In PISA 2003 young Finns were again at the OECD top in reading literacy. They had
statistically significantly better reading skills than their peers in other countries of
high literacy, such as Korea (the difference between Finland and Korea is not
statistically significant), Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
In average terms, there has been no significant change in young Finns' reading literacy
from PISA 2000. Reading performance was more even, with the smallest differences in the
OECD and a drop of 8 points in the standard deviation. Comparisons with the other
participating countries show not only that the reading performance of Finnish students is
excellent but also that a high standard of reading literacy can be achieved with
relatively small differences between students.
The even distribution of reading literacy was also seen in the placement of students
across the performance levels. Among the six performance levels, Level 3 is considered to
be the minimum requirement for meeting the demands of presentday society. On average 80%
of the Finnish students attained this level (PISA 2000 and PISA 2003). In 2003, 15% of
Finnish students achieved Level 5 (scoring over 625) whereas the OECD average was 8%, with
33% performing at Level 6 (OECD average 21%) and 32% at Level 3 (OECD mean 29%).
Girls read better than boys in every participating country. In Finland, gender
differences were smaller in PISA 2003 than in PISA 2000.
Development of performance scores in reading literacy,
PISA 2000 and PISA 2003 

PISA 2000 
PISA 2003 
Finland 
546 
543 
Nordic countries 
514 
508 
OECD 
500 
493 
EU 
494 
494 
United States 
504 
495 
Japan 
522 
498 
Young Finns reach top standards in scientific literacy
In PISA 2003 four countries clearly outperformed the others in scientific literacy.
These were the OECD countries Finland, Japan and Korea and the partner country Hong
KongChina. There were no differences in the performance of these four. Finnish students
achieved very similar scores in 2000 and 2003. Young Finns surpassed the goal set in the
national mathematics and science education programme Luma, which was to rank among the
best performing 25% in the OECD. Other highperforming countries were Liechtenstein,
Australia, MacaoChina, The Netherlands, and the Czech Republic.
In PISA 2003, Finland improved its performance in scientific literacy from PISA 2000,
achieving high and uniform standards. The standard deviation in young Finns' performance
was among the lowest in the OECD. A notable feature in the results was that Finnish
students outperformed their peers at all performance levels. Their scores at the lowest
and average levels were higher than those of students from other countries. PISA 2003
results give a positive picture of Finnish students' performance, which will be in sharper
focus still in PISA 2006, in which the main domain is scientific literacy.
Finnish students' performance was characterised by a high level and even distribution
of scientific literacy. Girls outperformed boys by 6 points.
Development of performance scores in scientific literacy,
PISA 2000 and PISA 2003 

PISA 2000 
PISA 2003 
Finland 
538 
548 
Nordic countries 
505 
502 
OECD 
500 
500 
EU 
492 
499 
United States 
499 
491 
Japan 
550 
548 
Finns among the OECD top in problem solving
Finnish students' problemsolving skills are among the best in the OECD. With its score
of 548, Finland (2nd) was on par with Korea, Japan and Hong KongChina.
Here, too, the performance was very even across students and schools. Especially
gratifying was the finding that Finland had the smallest relative number (5%) of poorly
performing students who have not mastered problemsolving skills. On average, the relative
number of lowperforming students in the OECD countries was three times higher than that
of Finland.
Problemsolving has many points of contact with the other PISA domains, the correlation
with mathematics being the strongest. This is not surprising since both mathematical and
general problemsolving require reasoning. The PISA 2003 results confirm the view that
PISA has succeeded in assessing knowledge and skills which students need in their
daytoday life and in the future.
Finnish girls outperformed boys in problemsolving. Girls' good problemsolving skills
seem to be a Nordic characteristic.
Problemsolving scores in PISA 2003 

PISA 2003 
Finland 
548 
Nordic countries 
514 
OECD 
500 
EU 
499 
United States 
477 
Japan 
547 
