Russia improves in OECD educational ranking

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December 23, 2013
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Photo of schoolchildren in a classroom in Russia; Russia improved on the OECD's PISA ranking this year.
Schoolchildren in a classroom before taking the unified state exam in Informatics and ICT, Biology or History in High School No.2 in Vladivostok. © Vitaliy Ankov, RIA Novosti.

The OECD published its triennial Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) for 2012 in early December 2013. In the words of Angel Gurria, OECD’s Secretary-General, the assessment has become the “world’s premier yardstick for evaluating the quality, equity and efficiency of school systems.” This especially holds true in an ever more connected and, some might say, flat world in which quality assessments only make sense by comparing different national systems with each other in lieu of comparing against national benchmarks only.

In brief: The OECD ranking

The program assesses what 15-year old secondary school students know and how they use their knowledge. The assessment specifically tests:

  • Mathematics
  • Reading
  • Science
  • Problem-solving

More than half a million students from 65 different countries (including 31 non-OECD members) completed the 2012 test. The test not only assessed their capacity to reproduce but also their ability to apply acquired knowledge in unfamiliar situations, both in and outside a school environment. According to the organisation this approach reflects the fact that modern societies reward individuals not for what they know, but for what they can do with what they know.”

Apart from giving national politicians an idea of where their youngsters stand, the test must also allow them to take home best-practices from countries with better scores. In a sense, peer pressure in a setting of international competitiveness should encourage every country to do better.

Russia’s comparative scores

While having scores for mathematics, reading and science below the OECD average, Russia is improving on all fronts. The average of the students over all participating countries decreased for mathematics (currently at 494 points) but Russia’s 15-year old students managed to up their level. To put this into perspective, Russia outperformed large comparable countries such as the United States, Brazil and Turkey.

According to the survey, Russia also proved it could increase its share of top performers (this corresponds to a group of pupils scoring far above the OECD average) in mathematics, reading or science. This indicates that its education system can pursue, promote and produce academic excellence even when its average is lower than the OECD average. Scandinavian countries which traditionally hit the highest scores dropped several places while East Asian countries once again showed their dominance in the scientific field.

What does the ranking mean?

Although the rankings can give a good idea of the pupil’s knowledge, one might ask whether the tests really give a meaningful impression of which children are the cleverest on our planet. Certainly considering the means invested and the sample used, it’s difficult to find other surveys which can claim to measure as well and accurately as the OECD’s PISA does.

However, one test analysing children’s mathematical skills comes nearest to PISA’s scope: the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), which holds four-yearly assessments to monitor progress among pupils aged 9-10 and 13-14 years. Apart from the top performers, one can see more significant differences in the sub top, where Russia performs better in the latest 2011 TIMMS test where it is ranked 10th right after England and before the US.

How well does your country perform in the PISA ranking?


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