Norwegian teens boost test scores

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Norwegian teenagers seem to be reading better and managed to boost their overall scores on an international test to above average. The boys, however, aren’t doing as well as the girls and the number of gifted students has declined.

The front pages of several Norwegian newspapers were dominated on Wednesday by the results of the so-called PISA test, also called the Programme for International Student Assessment. It’s an international exam meant to measure the competence of 15-year-olds around the world in the areas of reading, mathematics and science.

The exam is backed by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and is administered every three years. Test results released this week were based on the test given in 2009, with 65 countries taking part.

Ninth place
Norway ranked ninth among OECD countries, an improvement from the last test when Norwegian students scored below average. Topping the list were students in Shanghai, followed by South Korea and Finland. Then came Hong Kong and Singapore, followed by the OECD countries of Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Australia, the Netherlands and Belgium, then Norway.  (See a detailed list here – external link).

Government officials were predictably pleased by the new test results and immediately used them to political advantage, with Education Minister Kristin Halvorsen smiling broadly and pointing to the higher scores as proof that Norwegian schools have improved under the left-center government that’s held power since 2005. That’s about the time test scores had bottomed out in both reading and mathematics, falling to below average and raising public outcry in 2006.

Others, however, note that the new results only show that Norwegian students and their schools are back to where they were a decade ago, arguing there’s been no significant net improvement.

‘Be quiet and read’
Several issues emerged from the debate over the PISA test results, not least that Norwegian teenage boys need to improve their reading skills and should spend more time with books and less time on the computer and watching TV. “Give the boys books for Christmas!” exhorted the front page of newspaper Aftenposten.

Newspaper Dagsavisen noted that teenage girls in Norway are more than a year ahead of the boys, in terms of academic proficiency, while Dagens Næringsliv (DN) headlined its conclusion that the number of gifted students has declined. While the number of weak students declined, “the best students don’t get enough challenges,” claimed Marit Kjærnsli, a researcher at the University of Oslo.

Discipline and order in the classroom also remains a problem. Fully 39 percent of the students themselves responded on their test forms that there’s too much noise and unrest, and 33 percent said they didn’t think their fellow students were listening to the teacher.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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