Norwegian teenagers are performing much better on national and international tests. A batch of new test results are among the best ever, although many Norwegian students are still struggling with algebra.
The latest results arrived this week, when the so-called PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) tests showed Norwegian 15-year-olds scoring better in reading, math and science than the average of students in 35 OECD countries.
Around 5,500 Norwegian students at 229 schools took part in the PISA test, which is administered every three years in 72 countries including all those in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development).
“The positive development is no coincidence,” claimed Education Minister Torbjørn Røe Isaksen. He noted that the Norwegian Parliament has made concerted efforts to boost education since 2004. The new PISA results shows that Norwegian schools “are going in the right direction.”
Best in reading
The Norwegian teenagers scored best in reading, landing in the top 10 on a list of countries including Japan and Canada. While Singapore topped all three categories of testing, Norway ranked ninth in reading, 19th in math and 24th in sciences, but that was all well above the average of the 72 countries participating.
While some politicians criticize what they call “testing hysteria,” others were pleased by the PISA results, which followed those from another round of testing where Norwegians did better as well. Norwegian 5th graders, for example, emerged as the best in math among all those in the Nordic countries in the latest TIMSS test, conducted every fourth year in 57 countries.
TIMSS is an abbreviation for Trends in Mathematics and Science Study, and the test charts students’ interest and competence within math and science at the 4th/5th- and 8th/9th grade levels. While the 5th graders did well, newspaper Dagsavisen reported how the older students scored poorly in algebra.
“Norwegian students are alarmingly bad in algebra,” Liv Sissel Grønmo, a researcher at the University of Oslo who was project leader for the TIMSS Advanced testing for 2015, told Dagsavisen. “In the math that develops experts in important sectors like engineering, economics, data, physics, chemistry and natural sciences, we’re going in the wrong direction.”
Fewer class hours
Part of the reason may lie, reported Dagsavisen, in the number of classroom hours. According to researchers, Norwegian schools’ curriculum offers 81 hours of teaching in the natural sciences a year in the 8th grade. That compares, for example, to 121 hours in Sweden, 159 hours in England and 200 hours in the US.
Minister Isaksen called it a “paradox” that Norwegian students struggle with math and science, since Norwegian industry, not least within oil and gas, is based on competence within both fields. “In order to solve the challenges of the future, we are utterly dependent on strong abilities within the natural sciences and math,” he said. “Far too few Norwegian youth choose advanced mathematics in high school, but the results from elementary schools offers some hope that we’re going the right way.”
Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported that parents also play an important role. Their levels of education and even the number of books in homes have an influence on their children’s performance at school, according to researchers. “If the schools don’t manage to boost the students, the parents will do it at home,” agreed Isaksen.