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Lessons From Shanghai's Top Scores on International Test

A child wears toy glasses at the Shanghai World Expo in April
A child wears toy glasses at the Shanghai World Expo in April

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This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

The Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, is a two-hour test that compares the performance of fifteen-year-olds. In the latest test, the countries with the best readers were South Korea and Finland. But students in Shanghai, China, scored the highest of all in reading, mathematics and science.

The next strongest results were in Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada, New Zealand and Japan.

In all, around half a million students in more than seventy economies took the test last year. The test has been given every three years since two thousand. Last year was the first time Shanghai took part.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development just released the results. Andreas Schleicher is director of the Education Indicators and Analysis Division at the OECD.

ANDREAS SCHLEICHER: "Asian countries value education more than other countries. They have given education a priority. Every child, every teacher, every parent knows that education is the gateway to success."

Mr. Schleicher says other education systems can learn from Shanghai. For example, he says education spending in the province has increased, including teacher pay and training. And administrators are putting teachers into challenging classroom situations to make them better at their jobs.

ANDREAS SCHLEICHER: "They are pairing great with poorer schools in a way that is very systematic and very much focused on improving results."

In the PISA scoring system, Shanghai scored six hundred in math. By comparison, the United States scored four hundred eighty-seven.

Shanghai's reading average was five hundred fifty-six. American fifteen-year-olds scored five hundred, the same as in Iceland and Poland.

In science, Finland was second behind Shanghai. The United States was twenty-third.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan says the results show an urgent need for Americans to do more to remain competitive in the world economy. He points out that the United States has fallen from first to ninth place in college graduation rates because of gains by other countries.

Mr. Schleicher says international testing experts have investigated and confirmed the Shanghai scores. He says the PISA results are not representative of all of China. But he also says they dispute the common belief that Chinese education is centered on repetition and memorization.

Twenty-five percent of the Shanghai students showed advanced thinking skills to solve difficult math problems. The OECD average was three percent.

And that's the VOA Special English Education Report, by Lawan Davis and Ira Mellman. For a link to the results, go to I'm Steve Ember.