Test results show trouble with math

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The latest batch of test results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) show that Norwegian teenagers have never scored so poorly in mathematics. Education Minister Torbjørn Røe Isaksen conceded that he’s worried: “The results simply aren’t good enough,” he said on Tuesday.

After the release of the latest PISA results, Education Minister Torbjørn Røe Isaksen visited a school in Norway that specializes in mathematics instruction. PHOTO: Kunnskapsdepartementet

After the release of the latest PISA results, Education Minister Torbjørn Røe Isaksen visited a school in Norway that specializes in mathematics instruction. PHOTO: Kunnskapsdepartementet

PISA, under the auspices of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), measures the competence of 15-year-old students in various countries around the world. The teenagers are tested in reading, math and natural sciences and the results of last year’s exam were released on Tuesday. Norway has participated in the PISA test every three years since 2000.

Around 5,000 Norwegian 10th graders took the test nationwide last May. They scored at the lowest level for math since Norway’s PISA participation began. They also showed a “weak negative change” in their knowledge and competence in natural sciences but were stable in reading.

“We’re not seeing the progress from 2009 that many had perhaps expected,” said Marit Kjærnsli of the University of Oslo, which presented the PISA results. The test results were so poor that some called it an “alarming” lack of development in the school students’ grasp of math and science.

“The new PISA examination shows that we have a science problem in Norway,” Røe Isaksen said. “It worries me a lot.”

The Norwegian students nonetheless delivered “average” scores within the OECD countries in math. They read better than the OECD average, though, with the girls reading much better than the boys.

‘PISA shock’
The students tested in Finland once again beat out not only the Norwegians but most all of the other students in the Nordic region. They scored far above the other Nordic countries, although not by as great a margin as earlier. There were regional differences within Finland, but schools in Finland have long ranked as among the best in the world, with teaching seen as a high-status profession.

On an international basis, students in South Korea scored the highest in math, followed by Japan and Switzerland.

There was one positive result from the Norwegian students: They could report that there is less unruliness and noise in Norwegian classrooms than in previous years. Fully 76 percent of the students reported that teachers seldom if ever need to spend a lot of time demanding order in the classroom.

The PISA tests remain controversial, however, with some scholars advising against putting too much emphasis of their results. Norway scored poorly from the beginning, resulting in a state of “Pisa shock” that prompted political response from the government. Results rose in 2009, while the latest results show a backslide. The new government has promised more emphasis on improving the quality of Norwegian schools.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund