PISA study by the OECD: Germany ends up in the upper midfield

Tuesday, 03.12.2019
09:00 clock

"Quite acceptable." Thus, the verdict on the results of the German students in the new Pisa tests. In all three areas – reading, mathematics and science – they are above the OECD average ", writes Kristina Reiss, PISA coordinator for Germany, in a summation of the largest international education study to be presented this Tuesday.


However, Germany does not make it into the top flight. On average, young people scored worse on average than in Estonia, Finland, Hong Kong, Ireland, Poland or Singapore. In addition, the differences in the benefits in this country are sometimes immense and even larger, depending on the school form. School success continues to be more dependent on social background than the OECD average.

Every three years at Pisa, the performance of young people is recorded at the end of compulsory education. The current study focused on reading for the third time. The adolescents in Germany achieved 498 points – ranking 15th out of 37 in the OECD country ranking. Overall, they rank 20th out of 79.


    reading skills
    natural sciences

  After the German adolescents had improved their reading in the meantime, the performance is now at about the same level as in 2009, but not as bad as it was twenty years ago. The fact that Germany currently moves in the upper midfield, could also be due to the fact that countries such as Finland have slipped from the top group – and have pulled the cut down.


At the turn of the millennium, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) first compared the performance of 15-year-olds. The results triggered the "Pisa shock" in Germany, because they were at best mediocre. In addition, it emerged that school success depends significantly more on the family home than in other industrialized nations.

  The study was followed by several educational policy reforms, some of which are controversial – as well as the investigation itself. Critics doubt, for example, whether a performance comparison of young people from completely different education systems makes sense and question the tasks. (Sample tasks can be read here.)

"Still a breath of fresh air"

  The current results are not a drama, says Alexander Lorz, President of the Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs in Hesse – but they also do not meet the expectations of politics, teachers and parents to the German education system. "There's still room for improvement," says Lorz.


Pisa coordinator Reiss also says, "Our aspiration must be greater than a little above the OECD average." Compared to previous Pisa results, however, the current results for Germany are an important success. There are only a few states that have "achieved such a positive overall development in a comparable manner". But: The results also show that there is a need for action. For example, the proportion of low-achieving young people in all three areas is considered "unquestionably too high".


The Pisa StudyWho was tested?

In the seventh study of the "Program for International Student Assessment (PISA)" in spring 2018, the competences of 5451 pupils aged 15 and over were tested at about 220 schools of all types. In addition, teachers and parents were interviewed. Worldwide, around 600,000 15-year-olds participated in 79 countries, including the 37 member states of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

What was tested?

Every three years, the Pisa study looks at how well adolescents, at the end of compulsory education, can apply basic skills in reading, mathematics and science in everyday situations. This time, the focus was on reading. It includes the ability to understand, use, evaluate, and reflect on texts.

Where was tested?

A total of 79 countries and economic regions participated in the Pisa 2018 survey. The client is the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), but non-OECD countries can also participate. For the first time students from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brunei Darussalam, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine and Belarus were present.

How was tested?

All students have to solve Pisa tasks on the computer. In part, these are multiple-choice tasks, and in some cases tasks that require you to formulate your own answers. The study setting on reading was a bit different this time than in previous years: for the first time, it was taken into account that young people are no longer primarily reading printed matter but increasingly reading digital content. The students had to deal with different, partly conflicting sources.

Who is behind the study?

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) coordinates the study. Germany participates in the PISA study by resolution of the Conference of the Ministers of Education (KMK) and the Federal Ministry of Education. On the national side, the study was carried out by the Pisa working group under the direction of Kristina Reiss at the Technical University of Munich.

The most important results at a glance:

Reading Competence: Estonia at No. 1

  The 15-year-olds from Estonia, Canada, Finland and Poland outperform the OECD by comparison. Some regions of China and Singapore are even better, but countries like Georgia, Indonesia and Kosovo are at the bottom of the ranking.

  Striking in Germany is that there are huge differences in performance. The so-called dispersion, as it is called in Statistician-German, is above the OECD average and has also increased.

  The group of particularly low-achieving students is relatively large compared to other reading-strong countries, according to the study. At the same time there are also a lot of reading-strong 15-year-olds.

Mathematics: Japan Leader

  With 527 points in the PISA tests, students from Japan are leading the OECD country ranking in mathematics. The German youth score on average 500 points – and thus land in front of countries such as France, Iceland or Australia. But: Compared to Pisa 2012, the benefits have slipped.

  In addition, there are now significantly more 15-year-olds in Germany, who are described by the education researchers as particularly poor performers: More than a fifth of the students, according to the study "only about rudimentary mathematical knowledge." For young people who do not go to high school, the proportion is even greater.

Science: Germany in the top 12

  In the OECD comparison, Estonia, Japan and Finland occupy top positions in the natural sciences, Germany just under the top twelve. The German students have also deteriorated here. There are also big differences in the current benefits.

  One fifth of young people do not meet the minimum requirements for basic scientific education, write the Pisa researchers. At non-gymnasialen school types, the proportion of these young people was particularly high and have increased.



Conclusion: "The promotion of weaker students and the broad promotion of all young people is still a central task that requires targeted attention," writes Pisa coordinator Reiss.

  As far as reading is concerned, Germany was able to maintain its good level, said Reiss, "but the bad news is that a fifth of 15-year-olds are barely able to grasp and reflect on the meaning of texts From this result consequences should be drawn. "

  Researchers also see a need for action because their cultural and social origins have a major impact on reading literacy. In this area, the Pisa study examined different aspects this time. The researchers found, among other major differences between the school forms.

Details on the results of the study focus on reading

Schiss is diverging: A relatively high proportion of young people in high school is highly competent in reading. On the other hand, there is a high proportion of non-high school students with low-grade adolescents. Both groups have recently become bigger. Young people who do not go to high school on average also read worse than in previous Pisa studies. They reached an average of 458 points in the current tests – at grammar schools he was 578 points.

  •• High proportion of low-reading boys: In all the countries participating in the PISA study, girls on average show a higher reading literacy than boys. Compared to previous Pisa studies, this difference has narrowed, even in Germany.

  Almost unchanged for ten years, however, is the proportion of boys with a particularly low reading level: 24 percent. At the lowest levels of competence, the proportion of boys has even increased, write the Pisa authors, but also at the highest levels of competence. The performance goes further apart.

Parental home has a strong influence: how well students can read, depends in Germany considerably from the parents. The relationship between social origin and reading competence is above average in the OECD comparison, write the Pisa authors.

  The most privileged quarter of German students has a peer-to-peer reading score of 113, a little more than ten years ago, compared to peers most disadvantaged. In the OECD average, the gap is 89 points. The smallest differences are in Japan, Korea and Canada.

  According to the findings, inequality of opportunity persists in Germany when it comes to which school children attend: 70 per cent of schools deemed to be socio-economically disadvantaged suffer, according to their school leaders, from the shortage of teachers. In schools that are better, this complains 34 percent.

Immigration is making itself felt: The study has shown that the question of whether adolescents have a migration background has a major impact on reading performance in almost all European countries. In Germany, 15-year-olds from immigrant families get 472 points in reading tests – adolescents without foreign roots reach 524.

  • Germany top in reading strategies: The German students are leaders in international comparison when it comes to reading strategies. They know better than others how they can develop texts, but do not necessarily apply this knowledge. "This is a big challenge – that's where didactics come in," says KMK President Alexander Lorz.


•• Half of them do not read for pleasure: in terms of reading and reading, both have dropped significantly compared to ten years ago. Almost all teenagers read more chats and more news on the net than before.


  The joy of reading is below average in Germany. Around half of 15-year-olds say they do not read for pleasure: the OECD average is 42 percent. In almost all states this proportion is quite high, according to the study. Exceptions: Mexico, Greece, Colombia and Turkey. Here is the group of 15-year-olds who like to read, bigger. It is precisely these countries, however, that rank among the last in reading literacy.


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