December 4, 2013

Graph of 2012 PISA scores for 65 countries/economies


This graph displays the mean of the Math, Science, and Reading test scores from the OECD's 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment. American scores are red, white countries are blue, East Asians countries are yellow, Muslim countries are green, and Latin American countries are brown.

So, Asian Americans outscored all large Asian countries (with the exception of three rich cities); white Americans outperformed most, but not all, traditionally white countries; and Latino Americans did better than all Latin American countries. African Americans almost certainly scored higher than any black majority country would have performed.

Bear in mind that many countries did not take part in PISA, such as India, which dropped out after a trial run in two states produced average scores below any seen on this chart. For a broader sampling of Third World scores, see the 2011 TIMSS Math and Science scores.

The reality is that there is not much difference in PISA or TIMSS scores within major racial blocs of countries. The Northeast Asians all tend to score well, the European and white Anglosphere countries tend to score fairly well, the Latin American countries tend to score fair to middling, and on down from there. The rank order of continents is very much like the rank order of racial/ethnic groups on NAEP or SAT or CST tests. Newcomers to the topic like Amanda Ripley, author of The Smartest Kids in the World, get excited about minor differences in PISA scores within continents, but those often are statistical noise. 

For more on how to think about PISA scores, see here. And all my postings on PISA are here.

39 comments:

Jefferson said...

Multiracial Americans actually scored pretty well.

But I bet if you take Americans who are half Asian and half White out of the Multiracial category, than the PISA score for Multiracial Americans would plummet big time.

Because I doubt the majority of American Mulatos for example, are all that bright.

Anonymous said...

Argentina appears to be really underperforming from its potential.

Anonymous said...

We frequently talk about how bad things are getting in the US and about how the "collapse" of the US is just right around the corner, but if whites and Asians in the US are scoring higher than most of the developed world, and if Hispanics and blacks are scoring higher than many developing countries, this suggests that there's still quite a bit of ruin left to go in the US.

Peter the Shark said...

"Because I doubt the majority of American Mulatos for example, are all that bright."

The ones I've known have always struck me as fairly intelligent, no different than white people. It seems to me that in the past (1950s-70s) it was generally higher IQ white people that had children with African-Americans (like Obama's mother) - typically non-conformists or rebels, not poor whites living side by side with poor blacks. I suspect that these days there is far more poor white + poor black mixing going on.

Anonymous said...

How many of those lower scores are even worthwhile? If PISA is scored on a 200-800 scale a la SAT and depending on negative marking scheme, most of the lower scores and distributions will be skewed.

Anonymous said...

Africa may be economically poor but it's people rich, i.e. lots of people are produced.

Europe may be economically rich but it's people poor with not enough people being produced.

Yet, the emphasis on economic poverty has the West feeling sorry for Africa than sorry for its own poverty in declinig numbers.

Bob Arctor said...

Anonymous 12/4/13 1:19AM:
"...this suggests that there's still quite a bit of ruin left to go in the US."

The American ruling class has much less breathing room than their equivalents in third world nations; the expectations of the citizenry in the USA are just a little bit higher than that of, for instance, Indonesia or Peru.

"Argentina appears to be really underperforming from its potential."

I've been looking at this since the first PISA back in the late 90's and Argentina's abysmal showing, along with Uruguay's, is without question the most inexplicable thing about the score distribution. They should both be up there with Spain and Italy, but instead they're usually either right around (or well below) both Mexico and Brazil.

Bruce Charlton said...

I suspect that recent PISA statistics are likely to be increasingly corrupt, year upon year (if the populations were representative and the measurements were objective, they would barely change year upon year) - and it would be better to go back to the early data for scientific purposes; to the time before PISA scores were front page international news.

In the late 2000s I spent a few years looking at research statistics of universities. I found it was easy to get novel, very interesting, informative and potentially-useful knowledge from this data - IF that is what you were truly looking-for; but that approximately NOBODY AT ALL was interested by this.

(This is why it was so easy to get novel information - precisely because of the incompetence/ dishonesty of almost everybody who is analyzing it. Such dishonesty/ incompetence - and a domination by 'spin' goes up to the top, is indeed worst at the top - including a former chief scientific adviser of the UK.)

The ONLY thing that people are interested by, is the *status* deriving from position on 'league tables'.

They are not interested by the validity of this position, and they are not interested by what it means - not are they interested by whether their own position was arrived at honestly or by fraudulent manipulation/ faking.

Lying is fine so long as they do not get caught doing it, or - if they are caught - so long as their dishonesty is plausibly-deniable among the people they are intending to impress.

This complete lack of interest in valid data validly interpreted seems absolutely general -and includes the top universities (such as Oxford and Harvard) as much, or probably more than, less prestigious institutions.

Honest analysis of educational and research statistics is therefore best regarded as a hobby - done purely from personal interest; and only taken notice of (and almost always misinterpreted) when somebody has an axe to grind.

Bill said...

If any country really stands out, it's Estonia. Ethnic Russians make up over a quarter of the population, and most of them settled in Estonia as factory workers after the war. They are not a select group of Russians, as one can see from a national HIV prevalence that resembles Africa rather than Europe (over twice the US rate).

If you removed them from the equation, Estonia would probably score above Finland, which is pretty impressive for a small country that only recently emerged from Communism. Remarkable, actually.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

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dearieme said...

I used to work in a university department where all the academics were, to different degrees, clever; bar one. He was the only one who seemed inclined to take numbers at face value, rather than asking about bias and noise. I suppose it's just a low IQ thing.

Anonymous said...

Are "special ed" students excluded from the test? If so,is there some universal definition of "special ed"?

Anonymous said...

It's disappointing to me that only Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Florida paid extra to have their scores tabulated separately.

I would be interested to see regional comparisons or comparisons between blue states and red states or comparisons among states with different ancestries (for example, awhile back Minnesota's high standing on an old TIMSS test was discussed and Minnesota notably has a large Finnish-descended population).

Agree with the poster above that Asian/Caucasian "mixed race" students likely score well above the relatively low standing of "mixed ancestry" students in the US.

Anonymous said...

Some questions from an Irish perspective (meaning that I mean well but probably lack a lot of background knowledge, so play nice):

(1) I'd be fascinated to see who's producing multiracial children in America. The scores are too high to have much black in there, but is that because there are far fewer part blacks than I'd assumed, or because the one drop rule means they're counted as full black?

(2) I know this is such a common question that it's become a cliche, but are we really comparing like with like? For instance, I've read that a lot of American parents are sending their kids to school a year later, to give more social advantages. Since PISA tests based on age, are American scores being depressed (even a little) by the fact that some students are a year behind, but will catch up. Is that common enough to make a difference? Are the people doing it the kind who would really boost a country's scores?

(3) Pleasantly surprised at the Irish scores, but I'm more suspicious that they're teaching to the test and/or selecting (I know what our bureaucrats are capable of) and I strongly suspect that, considering our immigration/emigration trends, this is as high as it's gonna get.

eah said...

I don't think the score difference between "Asian Americans" and "White Americans" is of much significance.

Based on over two decades of experience working in 'Silicon Valley' and similar places, at over a dozen companies, I would choose working in a company full of "White Americans" over a company full of "Asian Americans" - or whatever - any day. With Whites you have a significantly better chance of being part of a well-run, comfortable, successful, competent - technically and otherwise - organization.

That's just my experience.

The worst places were US subsidiaries of Korean companies. The next best - but still bad - was a private company owned by a Chinese American (who was, nonetheless, still very Chinese). Never again.

SFG said...

I adore your politically-incorrect shading--I'm sick of these graphs where blacks are white and whites are brown--but Argentina and Uruguay are pretty white.

Everyone here underplays the role of culture. Sure, genetics are a huge thing too or we wouldn't see the yellow bars clustering at the top, but the dysfunctional culture of Latin America probably plays a huge role too.

Anonymous said...

You've grouped Argentina and Uruguay with Latin America for obvious geographical reasons. However, both countries are about 90% European (Spanish and Italian). Why then are their scores nearly 100 points lower than Spain's and Italy's? Not to mention Mexico's!

Anonymous said...

Black and Hispanic Americans relatively high scores may have something to do with high drop out rates among the less intelligent ones. This is one reason put forth for why Jaime Escalante was modestly successful. I've read fifty percent of the Hispanic classes in his high school dropped out in the first year.

el supremo said...

The low performance of some of the South American countries is rather strange.

Ethnically and culturally Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile are quite similar to Southern European countries, yet score well below them and even below Eastern European countries that have much less resources and a much more disordered society post-Communism.

Uruguay is perhaps the most extreme example of under-performance, as it is occupied by over 90% Spanish, Italian, and German descendants with very little Amerindian population, who live in a large city, a beach resort, and prosperous farms.

Also, Argentina should not be a mere 12 points above Peru, given that Peru is much poorer and has a huge number of Peruvian Indians who live nearly pre-modern lives in Andean villages (unless they are excluded from the whole PISA testing process, which is perhaps likely)

Anonymous said...


Because I doubt the majority of American Mulatos for example, are all that bright.

Usually, it's mostly the bright ones that consider themselves multiracial. Many consider themselves just Black.

Chuck Dantes said...

Argentina appears to be really underperforming from its potential.

My thoughts too. Well my thought right after USA USA USA. Which is kinda always playing in a loop in the background. I'm proud of all the black kids here who beat so many other countries despite the feds and dims doing everything in their power to destroy them

Anonymous said...

The effect of latitude - for whatever reason - is so obvious.

Luke Lea said...

Poor Peru. My stepson married a Peruvian woman. He's half Ashkenazi. It will be interesting to see how the children turn out. They are quite adorable, I can tell you that much.

Anonymous said...

"We frequently talk about how bad things are getting in the US and about how the "collapse" of the US is just right around the corner, but if whites and Asians in the US are scoring higher than most of the developed world, and if Hispanics and blacks are scoring higher than many developing countries, this suggests that there's still quite a bit of ruin left to go in the US."

IQ is only part of it. The effect of social capital, high trust etc is just as critical. When people aren't prepared to chip in to the commonweal then you'll get a collapse regardless of IQ.

In the urban blight immigrants aren't less bright on average than the segment of the white population they are replacing (the bottom 1/3 or so) but you still get a collapse because they operate solely on the basis of extended family networks and alliances of such networks and have no interest in the commonweal.

What has been happening in the urban blight for decades will happen on a larger scale as the ink spots gradually join up.

Luke Lea said...

@ Bruce Charlton - "Lying is fine so long as they do not get caught doing it, or - if they are caught - so long as their dishonesty is plausibly-deniable among the people they are intending to impress."

I wonder how this will turn out for China in the long-run? They grossly exaggerate their human capital and cover up the virtual absence of social and cultural capital. They may be sadly disappointed when they try to compete on the world stage -- though, no doubt, they can and will throw their weight around in their immediate neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

Shanghai's outstanding performance defies preconceptions about China's education system being based on rote learning, according to Schleicher who is the father of PISA test.

"The biggest surprise from Shanghai ... was not that students did well on reproducing subject matter content (Level I intelligence) but that they were very, very good in those higher order skills (that reflect) what you can do with what you know (Level II intelligence)," he said

Anonymous said...

"We frequently talk about how bad things are getting in the US and about how the "collapse" of the US is just right around the corner, but if whites and Asians in the US are scoring higher than most of the developed world, and if Hispanics and blacks are scoring higher than many developing countries, this suggests that there's still quite a bit of ruin left to go in the US." - it is more social trust than any test scores. when faith and trust in the system is truly gone, America's game is up.

I won't speculate as to when that would be though.

Portlander said...

An interesting take on the PISA results from Mark Schneider.

He looks at the numbers of top scorers, and on that metric the US is a laggard. He blames our political fixation on Teh Gap. I agree.

Further when you look at economic and scientific progress, it very disproportionately comes from heavy-lifters at the top. If we are not creating future heavy-lifters while also importing an ever larger underclass, it will be a double-whammy to our nation's future. This is the aspect I find most concerning about PISA.

Anonymous said...

A few European observations:

-It's fascinating how statistically similar Spain and Italy are. Their PISA scores are always either identical or within a point or two of each other. Also, their GDP per capita PPP has long been virtually identical.

-Poland has the advantage of being one of the few Western countries with virtually no Third World immigrants. Their fellow Catholic Slavs (Czechs, Slovaks, Slovenians, Croats) score lower but tend to have significant Roma populations to contend with.

-The Scandinavians continue to be mediocre. For all the hype they get, they've never been the sharpest Europeans.

-If you excluded all the descandants of Third World immigrants, I think the Netherlands and Germany would be 1 and 2 in Europe. My money is still on the Dutch and Germans as the smartest native peoples in Europe, but the differences are small. The relative success of different Western and Central European groups come mainly down to culture and history.

Anonymous said...

IQ is only part of it. The effect of social capital, high trust etc is just as critical. When people aren't prepared to chip in to the commonweal then you'll get a collapse regardless of IQ.

Except there are plenty of countries that trudge along without such "collapse", and most of the world is in a far worse position than the US in this regard.



Anonymous said...

Bear in mind that many countries did not take part in PISA, such as India, which dropped out after a trial run in two states produced average scores below any seen on this chart.

These scores may just indicate how orderly and well-functioning the countries are for the majority of their citizens.

Consider that India just launched a Mars probe last month:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/04/india-mars-probe-launch-space

While at the same time, the majority of people in India still don't have toilets and defecate outside in the open:

http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-11-19/india/44240952_1_sanitation-campaign-defecation-sanitation-project

This would explain outliers like India and Argentina, which have trouble meeting basic needs for the majority of their populations.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised the government's NCES reports the racial breakdown of the scores. It raises the question: is publishing statistics that illustrate The Gap counterproductive for the educational/political establishment? In this case, the racial breakdown would have been available anyway directly from PISA, but even so, the government collects and publishes racial data for NAEP too. Why?

They probably figure that documenting the relative underperformance of blacks and Hispanics illustrates how we're Failing Our Kids. Data for social justice!

But for Americans who pay attention to this sort of thing, a more natural reaction would be:

1. Our kids are doing fine.
2. Their kids are doing fine too, adjusting for race.
3. Why is it a good idea to fill your country with blacks and Hispanics, again?

I guess the educrats are true believers in closing The Gap and therefore don't regard evidence of its chronic persistence as damning and embarrassing. Either that, or they know that opponents of demographic transformation, more education spending, and blank-slate romanticism can be intimidated or indoctrinated into compliance.

Anonymous said...

The poor scores for the Southern Cone countries are indeed puzzling. I'm sure Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay could do better. I don't doubt cultural, economic, and institutional factors matter.

At the same time, there is wide variety (e.g., regional differences) within Spain and Italy. To the degree that the origins of Argentinians etc. are among more the more downscale sub-populations (e.g., southern Italians vs. northern Italians), presumably it would be reflected in the scores, right?

It would be interesting to see specific results for northern European communities like ethnic Germans or Welsh in Argentina.

Anonymous said...

"Except there are plenty of countries that trudge along without such "collapse", and most of the world is in a far worse position than the US in this regard."

You don't get it.

The high trust / social capital aspect provides a massive *bonus* to carrying capacity.

The countries you mention *never had* this bonus so they are operating at a stable carrying capacity.

Countries like the US are/were operating very far *above* that capacity.

An analogy would be the difference between a bridge designed to take 10 ton trucks which only carries 10 ton trucks and a bridge designed for 20 ton trucks which still carries 20 ton trucks after it has been weakened to the point where it can only carry 10 ton trucks.

This has already happened over and over again in the cities. They are only maintained at a 1st world level by money from outside. Once enough of the ink spots have joined up then everything goes kaput at once.

Anonymous said...

"-The Scandinavians continue to be mediocre. For all the hype they get, they've never been the sharpest Europeans."

Scandinavians are increasingly not Scandinavian and not only that because most of their immigration comes from refugees they are not even getting a disproportionate amount of brighter immigrants.

Anonymous said...

"The Scandinavians continue to be mediocre. For all the hype they get, they've never been the sharpest Europeans."

Scandos and Anglos have never really tested amazingly well.

They're at the high end of the European spectrum, but what's impressive about them is that their accomplishments and social capability is still high even net of that (compare to Russians, various Slavs, Chinese, etc.)

Gottlieb said...

I know this will sound very cliché what I'm saying , but it is important to analyze the local context , the causes for the low performance of some countries because definitely that Argentina and Uruguay,eg, score much higher than Brazil , without a shadow of doubt about it .
It's so obvious that these two countries have better cognitive genetic than Brazil and they should have for various reasons to have had a very short performance . I have the impression that the lack of motivation among students as well as some Marxist culture in Argentine schools may be causing this outcome of things . It is noteworthy that the current president of Uruguay is a communist old guard .
But definitely , when you are aware of cultural and behavioral differences between the countries of the Southern Cone ( Brazil , Uruguay and Argentina) knows that there is no way in this world that the last two are less intelligent in any angle to the lazy giant. Brazil, for some luck ( and tremendous current lack of zeal ) caught the wave of generations of European and Asian immigrants , and so managed to get the power status . Sailer could show them how the two largest Brazilian cities were in the 50s and the two became .
A correction from the American myth about the ethnography of Argentine and Urugay . Well , they are certainly the two most white Latin American countries , but there is already a growing population of mestizos and Bolivian immigrants , especially in Argentina . In Uruguay , known as the Switzerland of South America has become a nation of old people and children , where the most successful youth often migrate to other nations such as Spain . Public schools these nations should be maybe 30 % non-white . In Argentina , it is likely that, at least in urban areas , most white children study in private schools .
Still , I believe that two factors must be studied harder , lack of student motivation to perform the tests and culture in Marxist pedagogy , which discourages competition and emphasizes individual development of cognitive capabilities , an anagram for'' avoid categorisations ethno - cognitive of collective groups''.
When I speak of lack of motivation , I speak from experience , because (remember) my classmates and I did not like to do national tests education without extra points in the bulletin , hihihihihihi .

Bliss said...

Some observations:

1. Singapore and Asian-Americans rank at the very top even though Singapore is ~25% brown malay and black tamil, while half or more of asian-americans are from south-east Asia or the indian subcontinent.

2. Majority mixed-race/brown Brazil and Mexico outperform Argentina which is 90% white.

3. African-American students perform significantly better than not only 90% white Argentina but also way better than some all-white european nations like Albania and Montenegro.

4. Black students in Massachusetts outscore all the middle-eastern nations, all the south american nations and all the nations of south-eastern Europe.

Hmmm?