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National Center for Education Statistics

New International Comparisons of Reading, Mathematics, and Science Literacy Assessments

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a study of 15-year-old students’ performance in reading, mathematics, and science literacy that is conducted every 3 years. The PISA 2018 results provide us with a global view of U.S. students’ performance compared with their peers in nearly 80 countries and education systems. In PISA 2018, the major domain was reading literacy, although mathematics and science literacy were also assessed.

In 2018, the U.S. average score of 15-year-olds in reading literacy (505) was higher than the average score of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries (487). Compared with the 76 other education systems with PISA 2018 reading literacy data, including both OECD and non-OECD countries, the U.S. average reading literacy score was lower than in 8 education systems, higher than in 57 education systems, and not measurably different in 11 education systems. The U.S. percentage of top performers in reading was larger than in 63 education systems, smaller than in 2 education systems, and not measurably different in 11 education systems. The average reading literacy score in 2018 (505) was not measurably different from the average score in 2000 (504), the first year PISA was administered. Among the 36 education systems that participated in both years, 10 education systems reported higher average reading literacy scores in 2018 compared with 2000, and 11 education systems reported lower scores.

The U.S. average score of 15-year-olds in mathematics literacy in 2018 (478) was lower than the OECD average score (489). Compared with the 77 other education systems with PISA 2018 mathematics literacy data, the U.S. average mathematics literacy score was lower than in 30 education systems, higher than in 39 education systems, and not measurably different in 8 education systems. The average mathematics literacy score in 2018 (478) was not measurably different from the average score in 2003 (483), the earliest year with comparable data. Among the 36 education systems that participated in both years, 10 systems reported higher mathematics literacy scores in 2018 compared with 2003, 13 education systems reported lower scores, and 13 education systems reported no measurable changes in scores.  

The U.S. average score of 15-year-olds in science literacy (502) was higher than the OECD average score (489). Compared with the 77 other education systems with PISA 2018 science literacy data, the U.S. average science literacy score was lower than in 11 education systems, higher than in 55 education systems, and not measurably different in 11 education systems. The average science literacy score in 2018 (502) was higher than the average score in 2006 (489), the earliest year with comparable data. Among the 52 education systems that participated in both years, 7 education systems reported higher average science literacy scores in 2018 compared with 2006, 22 education systems reported lower scores, and 23 education systems reported no measurable changes in scores.

PISA is conducted in the United States by NCES and is coordinated by OECD, an intergovernmental organization of industrialized countries. Further information about PISA can be found in the technical notes, questionnaires, list of participating OECD and non-OECD countries, released assessment items, and FAQs.

 

By Thomas Snyder

New Study on U.S. Eighth-Grade Students’ Computer Literacy

In the 21st-century global economy, computer literacy and skills are an important part of an education that prepares students to compete in the workplace. The results of a recent assessment show us how U.S. students compare to some of their international peers in the areas of computer information literacy and computational thinking.

In 2018, the U.S. participated for the first time in the International Computer and Information Literacy Study (ICILS), along with 13 other education systems around the globe. The ICILS is a computer-based international assessment of eighth-grade students that measures outcomes in two domains: computer and information literacy (CIL)[1] and computational thinking (CT).[2] It compares U.S. students’ skills and experiences using technology to those of students in other education systems and provides information on teachers’ experiences, school resources, and other factors that may influence students’ CIL and CT skills.

ICILS is sponsored by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) and is conducted in the United States by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

The newly released U.S. Results from the 2018 International Computer and Information Literacy Study (ICILS) web report provides information on how U.S. students performed on the assessment compared with students in other education systems and describes students’ and teachers’ experiences with computers.


U.S. Students’ Performance

In 2018, U.S. eighth-grade students’ average score in CIL was higher than the average of participating education systems[3] (figure 1), while the U.S. average score in CT was not measurably different from the average of participating education systems.

 


Figure 1. Average computer and information literacy (CIL) scores of eighth-grade students, by education system: 2018p < .05. Significantly different from the U.S. estimate at the .05 level of statistical significance.

¹ Met guidelines for sample participation rates only after replacement schools were included.

² National Defined Population covers 90 to 95 percent of National Target Population.

³ Did not meet the guidelines for a sample participation rate of 85 percent and not included in the international average.

⁴ Nearly met guidelines for sample participation rates after replacement schools were included.

⁵ Data collected at the beginning of the school year.

NOTE: The ICILS computer and information literacy (CIL) scale ranges from 100 to 700. The ICILS 2018 average is the average of all participating education systems meeting international technical standards, with each education system weighted equally. Education systems are ordered by their average CIL scores, from largest to smallest. Italics indicate the benchmarking participants.

SOURCE: International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), the International Computer and Information Literacy Study (ICILS), 2018.


 

Given the importance of students’ home environments in developing CIL and CT skills (Fraillon et al. 2019), students were asked about how many computers (desktop or laptop) they had at home. In the United States, eighth-grade students with two or more computers at home performed better in both CIL and CT than their U.S. peers with fewer computers (figure 2). This pattern was also observed in all participating countries and education systems.

 


Figure 2. Average computational thinking (CT) scores of eighth-grade students, by student-reported number of computers at home and education system: 2018

p < .05. Significantly different from the U.S. estimate at the .05 level of statistical significance.

¹ Met guidelines for sample participation rates only after replacement schools were included.

² National Defined Population covers 90 to 95 percent of National Target Population.

³ Did not meet the guidelines for a sample participation rate of 85 percent and not included in the international average.

⁴ Nearly met guidelines for sample participation rates after replacement schools were included.

NOTE: The ICILS computational thinking (CT) scale ranges from 100 to 700. The number of computers at home includes desktop and laptop computers. Students with fewer than two computers include students reporting having “none” or “one” computer. Students with two or more computers include students reporting having “two” or “three or more” computers. The ICILS 2018 average is the average of all participating education systems meeting international technical standards, with each education system weighted equally. Education systems are ordered by their average scores of students with two or more computers at home, from largest to smallest. Italics indicate the benchmarking participants.

SOURCE: International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), the International Computer and Information Literacy Study (ICILS), 2018.


 

U.S. Students’ Technology Experiences

Among U.S. eighth-grade students, 72 percent reported using the Internet to do research in 2018, and 56 percent reported completing worksheets or exercises using information and communications technology (ICT)[4] every school day or at least once a week. Both of these percentages were higher than the respective ICILS averages (figure 3). The learning activities least frequently reported by U.S eighth-grade students were using coding software to complete assignments (15 percent) and making video or audio productions (13 percent).

 


Figure 3. Percentage of eighth-grade students who reported using information and communications technology (ICT) every school day or at least once a week, by activity: 2018

p < .05. Significantly different from the U.S. estimate at the .05 level of statistical significance.

¹ Did not meet the guidelines for a sample participation rate of 85 percent and not included in the international average.

NOTE: The ICILS 2018 average is the average of all participating education systems meeting international technical standards, with each education system weighted equally. Activities are ordered by the percentages of U.S. students reporting using information and communications technology (ICT) for the activities, from largest to smallest.

SOURCE: International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), the International Computer and Information Literacy Study (ICILS), 2018.


 

Browse the full U.S. Results from the 2018 International Computer and Information Literacy Study (ICILS) web report to learn more about how U.S. students compare with their international peers in their computer literacy skills and experiences.

 

By Yan Wang, AIR, and Linda Hamilton, NCES

 

[1] CIL refers to “an individual's ability to use computers to investigate, create, and communicate in order to participate effectively at home, at school, in the workplace, and in society” (Fraillon et al. 2019).

[2] CT refers to “an individual’s ability to recognize aspects of real-world problems which are appropriate for computational formulation and to evaluate and develop algorithmic solutions to those problems so that the solutions could be operationalized with a computer” (Fraillon et al. 2019). CT was an optional component in 2018. Nine out of 14 ICILS countries participated in CT in 2018.

[3] U.S. results are not included in the ICILS international average because the U.S. school level response rate of 77 percent was below the international requirement for a participation rate of 85 percent.

[4] Information and communications technology (ICT) can refer to desktop computers, notebook or laptop computers, netbook computers, tablet devices, or smartphones (except when being used for talking and texting).

 

Reference

Fraillon, J., Ainley, J., Schulz, W., Duckworth, D., and Friedman, T. (2019). IEA International Computer and Information Literacy Study 2018: Assessment Framework. Cham, Switzerland: Springer. Retrieved October 7, 2019, from https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007%2F978-3-030-19389-8.

Education at a Glance 2019: Putting U.S. Data in a Global Context

International comparisons provide reference points for researchers and policy analysts to understand trends and patterns in national education data and are important as U.S. students compete in an increasingly global economy.

Education at a Glance, an annual publication produced by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), provides data on the structure, finances, and progress of education systems in 36 OECD countries, including the United States, as well as a number of OECD partner countries. The report also includes state-level information on key benchmarks to inform state and local policies on global competitiveness. 

The recently released 2019 edition of the report shows that the United States is above the international average on some measures, such as participation in and funding of higher education, but lags behind in others, such as participation in early childhood education programs.

 

Distribution of 25- to 34-Year-Olds With a College Education, by Level of Education

The percentage of U.S. 25- to 34-year-olds with an associate’s or bachelor’s degree increased by 8 percentage points between 2008 and 2018, reaching 49 percent, compared with the OECD average of 44 percent. However, the attainment rates varied widely across the United States in 2017, from 32 percent for those living in Louisiana and West Virginia to 58 percent for those living in Massachusetts and 73 percent for those living in the District of Columbia.

The percentage of U.S. students completing a bachelor’s degree within 4 years was 38 percent in 2018, about the same as the average among OECD countries with available data (39 percent); however, after an additional 2 years, the U.S. graduation rate (69 percent) was slightly above the OECD average of 67 percent (achieved after 3 years). While a higher percentage of U.S. young adults had completed a bachelor’s degree compared with young adults in other OECD countries, a lower percentage had completed a master’s or doctoral degree. Eleven percent of 25- to 34-year-olds in the United States had completed a master’s or doctoral degree, compared with an average of 15 percent across OECD countries.

 

Higher Education Spending

U.S. spending on higher education is also relatively high compared with the OECD average, in both absolute and relative terms. The United States spent $30,165 per higher education student in 2017, the second-highest amount after Luxembourg and nearly double the OECD average ($15,556). Also, U.S. spending on higher education as a percentage of GDP (2.5 percent) was substantially higher than the OECD average (1.5 percent). These total expenditures include amounts received from governments, students, and all other sources. 

 

Early Childhood Education

Contrasting with enrollment patterns at the higher education level, the level of participation in early childhood education programs in the United States is below the OECD average and falling further behind. Between 2005 and 2017, average enrollment rates for 3- to 5-year-olds across OECD countries increased from 76 to 86 percent. In contrast, the rate in the United States remained stable at 66 percent during this time period. Among U.S. states, the 2017 enrollment rates for 3- to 5-year-olds ranged from less than 50 percent in Idaho, North Dakota, and Wyoming to more than 70 percent in Connecticut, the District of Columbia, and New Jersey.

Going deeper into the data, on average, 88 percent of 4-year-olds in OECD countries were enrolled in education programs in 2017, compared with 66 percent in the United States. The enrollment rate for 3-year-olds in the United States was 42 percent, compared with the OECD average of 77 percent.

 

Gender Gaps in Employment

Education at a Glance also looks at employment and other outcomes from education. The report found that the 2017 gender gap in employment rates was lower for those who had completed higher levels of education. This pattern holds in the United States, where the gender gap in the employment rate was particularly high among 25- to 34-year-olds who had not completed high school. For this age group, the employment rate was 73 percent for men and 41 percent for women, a difference of 32 percentage points, compared with the average difference of 28 percentage points across OECD countries. The gender gap in the employment rate was 14 percentage points among U.S. adults with only a high school education and 7 percentage points among those who had completed college.

In 2017, the gender differences in average earnings were also wider in the United States than in the OECD averages. These gender gaps in earnings between male and female full-time workers existed across all levels of education. In the United States, college-educated 25- to 64-year-old women earned 71 percent of what their male peers earned. This gender gap was wider than for all other OECD countries except for Chile, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Poland, and the Slovak Republic.

This is just a sample of the information that can be found in Education at a Glance 2019. You can also find information on the working conditions of teachers, including time spent in the classroom and salary data; student/teacher ratios; college tuitions and loans; and education finance and per student expenditures. Education at a Glance also contains data on the international United Nations Sustainable Development Goals related to education.

Browse the full report to see how the United States compares with other countries on these important education-related topics.

 


Percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds with a college education, by level of education: 2018

1 Year of reference differs from 2018 (see NOTE).                                                                                                                                       

NOTE: Reporting of some countries is not consistent with international categories. Please refer to Education at a Glance Database, http://stats.oecd.org. for details. Comparisons follow International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) 2011 education levels: “Associate’s or similar degrees” refers to ISCED 2011 level 5, “Bachelor’s or equivalent” refers to level 6, “Master’s or equivalent” refers to level 7, and “Doctoral or equivalent” refers to level 8. Countries are ranked in descending order of the total percentage of tertiary-educated 25- to 34-year-olds. See Annex 3 for additional notes (https://doi.org/10.1787/f8d7880d-en).

SOURCE: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2019), Education at a Glance Database, http://stats.oecd.org


 

By Thomas Snyder 

How financially literate are U.S. 15-year-olds?

By Lauren Musu-Gillette

Individuals are required to make a large number of financial decisions throughout the course of their lifetime, and financial literacy is an important skill for tasks ranging from setting a budget to saving money for retirement. A good foundation in financial literacy can help adolescents enter higher education and the workforce with a better understanding of how to make informed decisions.

The United States participated in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) financial literacy assessment in order to assess the financial literacy of a nationally representative sample of U.S. 15-year-olds. Students from 14 other education systems around the world also participated. Results are also available for Massachusetts and North Carolina. A recent NCES Data Point shows how U.S. students compare to their peers in other countries.

In 2015, The U.S. average score on the PISA financial literacy assessment was not measurably different from the average of the 10 participating Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. The U.S. average was lower than the average in six education systems, higher than the average in six, and not measurably different from the average in two education systems. The U.S. average score did not change measurably from 2012–the last time the assessment was conducted–to 2015.

As part of the PISA financial literacy assessment, students were tested on their knowledge and understanding of fundamental elements of the financial world, including financial concepts, products, and risks, and their ability to apply what they know to real-life situations involving financial issues and decisions. More information about the assessment, including sample questions, is available here.


Sample Financial Literacy Assessment Question

SOURCE: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) Financial Literacy Assessment, 2012.


Ten percent of U.S. 15-year-olds scored at the top proficiency level on financial literacy in 2015. Students reaching level 5 on the PISA assessment of financial literacy demonstrate that they can apply their understanding of a wide range of financial terms and concepts to contexts that may only become relevant to their lives in the long term.[1] The percentage of students in the United States who scored at this level was lower than the OECD average and lower than the average in five education systems. It was higher than the average score in eight education systems and not measurably different from one country (Russian Federation).


Percentage of 15-year-old students performing at PISA financial literacy proficiency level below level 2 and at level 5, by education system: 2015

*p<.05. Percentage is significantly different than the U.S. percentage at the .05 level of statistical significance.
NOTE: Education systems are ordered by 2015 percentages of 15-year-olds at level 5. The OECD average shown here is the average of the national percentages of the 10 OECD member countries that participated in the financial literacy assessment, with each education system weighted equally. B-S-J-G (China) refers to the four PISA participating China provinces: Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu, and Guangdong. Canadian provinces refers to the seven provinces that participated in the financial literacy assessment: British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Prince Edward Island. Italics indicate non-OECD countries and education systems. Results for Massachusetts and North Carolina are for public school students only. The score point ranges for the proficiency levels are shown in exhibit 1 and the standard errors of the estimates are shown in table FL3b available at http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/pisa/PISA2015/index.asp.
SOURCE: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Program for International Student Assessment (PISA),2015.

 


The percentage of U.S. 15-year-old students scoring below level 2, which is considered a baseline level of proficiency by the OECD, was 22 percent.[2] The U.S. percentage of low performers in 2015 was higher than four education systems and lower than five. The U.S. percentage did not differ significantly from that of the Netherlands, Australia, Poland, Italy, Spain, and the OECD average.

There was no measurable difference in the average financial literacy assessment scores for males and females in the United States in 2015. Females scored higher than males, on average, in five countries and lower than males in one country.


Difference in average scores of 15-year-old male and female students on the PISA financial literacy scale, by education system: 2015

# Rounds to zero.
NOTE: Education systems are ordered by absolute male-female difference in 2015 average score. Differences were computed using unrounded numbers. Scores are reported on a scale from 0 to 1,000. The OECD average is the average of the national average score differences of the 10 OECD member countries, with each system weighted equally. Standard error is noted by s.e. Italics indicate non-OECD countries and education systems. B-S-J-G (China) refers to the four PISA participating China provinces: Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu, and Guangdong. Canadian provinces refers to the seven provinces that participated in the financial literacy assessment: British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Prince Edward Island. Results for Massachusetts and North Carolina are for public school students only. The average scores and standard errors are shown in table FL7.
SOURCE: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), 2015.


For more information on the results of the PISA 2015 literacy assessment, see our recently released Data Point, or explore additional data tables on our website.

 

[1] Students scoring at this level can analyze complex financial products and can take into account features of financial documents that are significant but unstated or not immediately evident, such as transaction costs. They can work with a high level of accuracy and solve non-routine financial problems, and they can describe the potential outcomes of financial decisions, showing an understanding of the wider financial landscape, such as income tax.

[2] Students scoring at level 2 begin to apply their knowledge of common financial products and commonly used financial terms and concepts. They can use given information to make financial decisions in contexts that are immediately relevant to them. They can recognize the value of a simple budget and can interpret prominent features of everyday financial documents. They can apply single basic numerical operations, including division, to answer financial questions. They show an understanding of the relationships between different financial elements, such as the amount of use and the costs incurred. Students scoring at level 1 can identify common financial products and terms and interpret information relating to basic financial concepts. They can recognize the difference between needs and wants and can make simple decisions on everyday spending. They can recognize the purpose of everyday financial documents such as an invoice and apply single and basic numerical operations (addition, subtraction or multiplication) in financial contexts that they are likely to have experienced personally.

 

International Comparisons of School Crime and Safety

By Lauren Musu-Gillette

Indicators of School Crime and Safety provides a wealth of information on the safety of schools and colleges. The report is updated annually, which allows the public to compare many data points over time in the United States. But how does crime and safety for U.S. students compare to students from other countries? This year’s report helps put some of the U.S. data in an international context by comparing it to crime and safety indicators in other countries.

For example, 15 percent of U.S. fourth-grade students reported experiencing bullying at least once a month, which was lower than the international average (16 percent).[1] This percentage was also lower than the percentages in 16 countries, higher than the percentages in 21 countries, and not measurably different from the percentages in 10 countries. Similarly, the percentage of U.S. eight-grade students who reported experiencing bullying at least once a week was lower than the international average (7 vs. 8 percent), and was lower than the percentages in 13 countries. The U.S. percentage was higher than the percentages in 16 countries, and not measurably different from the percentages in 6 countries.


Percentage of eighth-grade students who reported experiencing bullying at least once a month during the school year, by country or other education system: 2015

1 Norway collected data from students in their 9th year of schooling rather than in grade 8 because year 1 in Norway is considered the equivalent of kindergarten.
NOTE: Most of the education systems represent complete countries, but some represent subnational entities; England, for example, is part of the United Kingdom. Data are based on rounded estimates.
SOURCE: International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), 2015.


Data from this spotlight come from the 2015 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). The primary purpose of TIMSS is to compare the mathematics and science performances of fourth- and eighth-grade students in participating countries and education systems. In addition to assessments, TIMSS provides questionnaires to students who participate, as well as to the teachers and principals of participating students. The 2015 TIMMS questionnaire collected data on students’ reports of bullying, teachers’ reports of whether the school environment is safe and orderly, and principals’ reports of school discipline issues for students in grades 4 and 8.

In the U.S., 7 percent of participating fourth-grade students attended schools that were less than safe and orderly, according to the data reported by their teachers.[2] This was higher than the international average of 4 percent and higher than the percentages in 22 countries, while being not measurably different from the percentages in 19 countries. About 13 percent of participating U.S. eighth-grade students reported attending schools that were less than safe and orderly; higher than the international average of 8 percent and higher than the percentages in 26 countries.

About 3 percent of U.S. fourth-graders and 2 percent of U.S. eighth-graders attended schools with moderate to severe discipline problems, according to data reported by their principals.[3] These percentages were lower than the international averages for fourth-graders and eighth-graders (10 percent and 11 percent, respectively).

For more detailed information, visit the spotlight in Indicators of School Crime and Safety 2016.

 

[1] The bullying questionnaire item asked, “During this school year, how often have other students from your school done any of the following things to you (including through texting and the Internet)?” These behaviors were listed after the question: Made fun of me or called me names; Left me out of games or activities; Spread lies about me; Stole something from me; Hit or hurt me (e.g., shoving, hitting, kicking); Made me do things I didn’t want to do; Shared embarrassing information about me; Threatened me; and Posted embarrassing things about me online (only asked of eighth-graders).

[2] The questionnaire item was, “Thinking about your current school, indicate the extent to which you agree or disagree with each of the following statements,” and it was followed by these statements: This school is located in a safe neighborhood; I feel safe at this school; This school’s security policies and practices are sufficient; The students behave in an orderly manner; The students are respectful of the teachers; The students respect school property; This school has clear rules about student conduct; and This school’s rules are enforced in a clear and consistent manner.

[3] The questionnaire item asked, “To what degree is each of the following a problem among [fourth-grade/eighth-grade] students in your school?” These behaviors or occurrences were listed following the questionnaire item: Arriving late at school; Absenteeism (i.e., unjustified absences); Classroom disturbance; Cheating; Profanity; Vandalism; Theft; Intimidation or verbal abuse among students (including texting, emailing, etc.); Intimidation or verbal abuse of teachers or staff (including texting, emailing, etc.); Physical fights among students (only asked of fourth-grade principals); Physical injury to other students (only asked of eighth-grade principals); and Physical injury to teachers or staff (only asked of eighth-grade principals).