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In only three years, the US dropped 10 points in math literacy, 9 points in reading literacy, and 8 points in science literacy.  In the same period, Finland's scores increased 8 points in math literacy and 10 points in science literacy, widening the already huge gap between the US and Finland by 18 points in both math and science.



PISA 2003 results

Young Finns still at the OECD top in mathematical literacy

Finnish 15-year-old 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 Kong-China 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 highest-performing 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 low-perfumers on the "space and shape" scale was a little larger than in the other performance areas in mathematics, in which the average variation was 1-2%.

Gender differences in mathematical literacy were fairly small in Finland. In mathematics boys traditionally outperform girls and the difference tends to grow towards higher year-classes. The overall difference in girls' and boys' performance scores was only 7 points in Finland.

The students' socio-economic background correlates with learning outcome in mathematics. Children from the highest socio-economic 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 present-day 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 Kong-China. 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 high-performing countries were Liechtenstein, Australia, Macao-China, 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' problem-solving skills are among the best in the OECD. With its score of 548, Finland (2nd) was on par with Korea, Japan and Hong Kong-China.

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 problem-solving skills. On average, the relative number of low-performing students in the OECD countries was three times higher than that of Finland.

Problem-solving 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 problem-solving require reasoning. The PISA 2003 results confirm the view that PISA has succeeded in assessing knowledge and skills which students need in their day-to-day life and in the future.

Finnish girls outperformed boys in problem-solving. Girls' good problem-solving skills seem to be a Nordic characteristic.

Problem-solving scores in PISA 2003
  PISA 2003
Finland 548
Nordic countries 514
OECD 500
EU 499
United States 477
Japan 547


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