China's students fall in rank on assessment test

By AMY HE in New York | China Daily USA | Updated: 2016-12-08 00:41

Top 10 finish was maintained in science and math, but PISA numbers were down from 2012

Chinese students' scores fell across the board in science, reading and mathematics in the 2015 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests compared with a 2012 assessment, though they were able to retain their top 10 ranking in science and math.

Students in Beijing, Jiangsu, Guangdong and Shanghai took the two-hour test, administered last year by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

In 2012, Shanghai was the only Chinese mainland city partaking in the assessment. Shanghai has been participating in the PISA since 2009.

Students in Beijing-Shanghai-Jiangsu-Guangdong, as denoted by the OECD in the assessment, scored a median 518 in science in 2015, compared with the 580 that students from Shanghai scored in 2012. They scored 494 in reading in 2015, compared with 570 in 2012, and 531 in mathematics, compared with 613 in 2012.

The OECD said that more than one in four students in Beijing-Shanghai-Jiangsu-Guangdong are top performers in mathematics, "meaning that they can handle tasks that require the ability to formulate complex situations mathematically, using symbolic representations".

Yong Zhao, a professor at the education school at the University of Kansas, said that there is no reason to overreact to Chinese mainland's scores because he doesn't believe the PISA "measures the totality of the quality of education of any education system".

He said that adding more provinces to the test might have caused the dip, but that it could have had other contributing factors.

"Overall, we don't need to read too much into PISA or other international tests," he wrote in an email response to questions.

The assessment was given to approximately 540,000 15-year-old students in 72 economies on science, math and collaborative problem-solving.

Singapore dominated across all three subjects, ranking first and outperforming the rest of the world on the test, which evaluates the quality, equity and efficiency of school systems.

The top-ranked OECD countries, of which China is not a participating member, were Japan, Estonia, Finland and Canada.

The OECD said that the main focus of the 2015 exam was science, because the PISA views science literacy as "skills that are required to engage in reasoned discourse about science-related issues".

Science literacy is linked to economic growth, they said, and is needed for solving social and environmental problems.

The OECD noted in its lengthy assessment of the results — published in two volumes on Tuesday, with three more volumes to come in 2017 — that science performance remained "essentially unchanged" since 2006, despite significant improvements made in science and technology since then.

Gender disparities in science, though small, still contribute to boys outperforming girls, the OECD found.

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