Finnish Students Top OECD Literacy Study. (and Furthermore)

Article excerpt

Canadian, Australian, NZ students place second, US finishes 10th

A special report provided by Teacher Librarian

A project to evaluate the literacy skills of 15-year-old students in 32 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has released the first of its reports, placing Finnish students at the top of the list, followed by those in Canada, New Zealand and Australia tied for second. Students in the United Kingdom earned fifth place, while students in the United States placed 10th.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a project of the OECD, designed to provide policy-oriented international indicators of the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students. Three literacy domains are being assessed in PISA: Reading, Mathematics and Science. Three cycles of PISA are planned. In each cycle, two-thirds of testing time will be devoted to a major literacy domain: Reading in 2000, Mathematics in 2003 and Science in 2006.

The project aims to assess to what degree students approaching the end of their compulsory education have acquired some of the knowledge and skills that are essential for full participation in society. PISA hopes to answer the following questions:

* How well are young adults prepared to meet the challenges of the future?

* Are they able to analyze, reason and communicate their ideas effectively?

* Do they have the capacity to continue learning throughout life?

* Are some kinds of teaching and school organization more effective than others?

The 2000 PISA Survey

Thirty-two countries participated in the 2000 PISA survey. PISA 2000 consists of the following:

* Two hours of direct students; skill assessment through reading, mathematics and science tests. Reading was the major domain for 2000.

* A 20-minute self-completed contextual questionnaire administered to students to collect background information to help understand the factors contributing to student achievement.

* A three-minute section in Information Technology administered to students.

* A 30-minute self-completed school questionnaire administered to school principals to collect information about characteristics of schools.

Between 4,000 and 10,000 students were assessed in each participating country. Students were asked questions based on a variety of written texts, ranging from a short story to a letter on the Internet and information presented in a diagram. They were assessed on their capacity to retrieve specified information, whether they could interpret what they read, and how well they could reflect on and evaluate it, drawing on their existing knowledge. For each of these three aspects of reading literacy, students were given a score based on the difficulty of the tasks that they could perform. A combined score shows their overall reading performance.

On the basis of these scores, each student was assigned to one of five reading levels. Table 1 (see page 64) shows the percentage of students who are proficient at each level in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States. (The full PISA report has results for all the participating countries, and is available at

Level 1 Proficiency

Reading literacy, as defined in PISA, focuses on the knowledge and skills required to apply "reading for learning" rather than on the technical skills acquired in "learning to read." In line with most contemporary views about reading, the project focuses on measuring students' ability to construct, expand and reflect on the meaning of what they have read in a wide range of texts common both within and outside school. The simplest reading tasks associated with this notion of reading literacy are those at Level 1. Students proficient at this level are capable of completing only the least complex reading tasks developed for PISA, such as locating a single piece of information, identifying the main theme of a text or making a simple connection with everyday knowledge. …