Friday March 01, 2024

Performance of young Finnish students falls: PISA

Published : 05 Dec 2023, 22:58

  DF Report
Photo: Visit Finland by Elina Manninen/Keksi.

The performance of Finnish young people has deteriorated, although it remains above the OECD average, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)´s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2022 published on Tuesday.

In PISA 2022, Finnish young people aged 15 achieved the mean score of 484 points in mathematical literacy, compared with the OECD average of 472 points, said the Ministry of Education and Culture in a press release, quoting the assessment.

PISA 2022 focused on mathematical literacy.

The best-performing country in mathematics was Singapore (575 points) followed by other East Asian countries.

Estonia, Switzerland, Canada, the Netherlands and Ireland also ranked higher than Finland.

Finland was among 11 countries where performance was above the OECD average and did not differ statistically significantly between the countries. Denmark, Latvia and Sweden were among these countries too.

It was exceptional in how many countries learning outcomes deteriorated. The mean point score in mathematical literacy fell in as many as 41 comparable countries or economies, of which 35 are OECD countries.

Among the OECD countries, student performance only improved in Japan and Korea, the assessment showed.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced PISA to be postponed by a year and affected the participating students throughout their lower secondary education, at least indirectly if not otherwise.

For the first time, many countries also struggled to meet the PISA standards for sampling or response rate.

This means that either the school-level or the student-level response rate failed to meet the standards set for PISA assessments. Such countries have been included in the reports, but they are marked with an asterisk in the figures and tables.

Mathematical literacy has been on a downward trajectory in Finland since PISA 2006. In the latest assessment, the average score of Finnish students was 484 points, down by 64 points from the highest-ranking year of 2006 (548 points).

This decline in performance is also evident in student distribution across different performance levels. In the early 2000s, only 7 per cent of Finnish students ranked at the lowest performance levels (below Level 2) in mathematics.

In the latest study, one in four students performed at these levels and the percentage of top-performing students in mathematical literacy (Level 5 or 6) fell over the same time period.

In reading literacy, Finnish students continued to outperform (490 points) the OECD average (476 points).

In reading literacy, the main domain of assessment in PISA 2018, Finland's average score dropped markedly from the previous assessment, down by 30 points. As in mathematical literacy, performance in reading literacy declined in most participating countries.

The average score of Finnish students in scientific literacy also remained above the OECD average at 511 points. As in Finland, young people's scientific literacy has declined throughout the OECD countries from the top performances of 2006 and 2009. However, the decline has been steeper in Finland than in the OECD on average.

In the PISA assessments of mathematical literacy, the performance gap between Finnish girls and boys has been fairly modest.

Boys outperformed girls in 2012 but since then the gender gap has turned and is now in favour of girls.

In the 2022 assessment, the difference in performance between girls (487 points) and boys (482 points) was 5 points. The deterioration in performance, however, is evenly distributed between the genders: relative to the previous round in 2018, the average score in mathematical literacy fell by 24 points among Finnish girls and by 23 points among boys.

The educational background and occupation of parents as well as family wealth (socio-economic status) were linked to the reading literacy of students in all participating countries.

In Finland, students in the highest socio-economic quarter achieved a score of 529 points, which was 83 points more than the score of students in the lowest quarter, who achieved a mean score of 446 points (OECD 93 points).

The difference grew by 16 points from the previous round when mathematical literacy was the main domain of the assessment. This increase is explained by the fact that the outcomes of students of the lowest socio-economic status have weakened somewhat more than those of the highest socio-economic status.

Relative to Finnish-speaking schools, Swedish-speaking schools seemed to show better outcomes overall. Over the past decade, the decline in student performance in Swedish-speaking schools has been slower than in Finnish-speaking schools in all areas of assessment. For the first time in mathematical literacy, the difference between Swedish-speaking (499 points) and Finnish-speaking (483 points) schools was statistically significantly in favour of Swedish speakers. In mathematical literacy, the share of weak performers did not increase in Swedish-speaking schools as much as in Finnish-speaking schools.

And in scientific literacy not only was the average score for Swedish-speaking schools (526 points) higher than that for Finnish-speaking schools (510 points), but Swedish speakers had increased their point score relative to their previous assessment.

In reading literacy, the language of instruction did not make a difference, the mean score being 490 points for the speakers of either language.

Performance declined among students irrespective of whether they have a migrant background or not. In mathematical literacy, the score point difference between non-immigrant students and first-generation immigrant students narrowed by 11 points relative to the 2012 round of PISA.

This is explained by the fact that the score points of students without an immigrant background fell more than those of students with an immigrant background. The mean scores of both non-immigrant students and first-generation and second-generation immigrant students fell in all three areas of assessment – mathematical, reading and scientific literacy – relative to 2012.

In Finland, disparities between schools have traditionally been small by international standards. PISA 2022 indicates that disparities between schools have somewhat increased relative to earlier rounds. Disparities between schools outside the Greater Helsinki area have grown wider from 2012 to 2022 and are now close to the level of variation between schools in Greater Helsinki.

Variation between students (within one school) largely remained stable in Finnish lower secondary schools between 2003 and 2018. However, disparities then began to increase and have since grown wider than in any earlier PISA assessment.

There was both improvement and deterioration in student attitudes towards learning and attending school. Finnish students exhibited the lowest levels of mathematics anxiety in OECD countries. The more students felt they received support from their teacher in maths lessons, the less likely they were to feel anxious about maths.

Altogether 78 per cent of Finnish students said their teachers gave extra help when they needed it (OECD average 70%) and 59 per cent reported that in most lessons teachers showed an interest in every student’s learning (OECD average 63%). However, the respondents in 2022 felt they received less help from their teachers than did the respondents in 2012.

The questions measuring disciplinary climate indicated that Finnish students experienced poorer classroom discipline than did students on average across OECD countries. Based on the survey questions on disciplinary climate repeated between 2022 and 2012, students perceived classroom discipline to have somewhat improved.

This round included for the first time questions on the degree to which students felt digital devices were disrupting lessons. Of Finnish students, 41 per cent reported that the use of students' digital resources distracted them in every lesson in mathematics or in most lessons in mathematics. This figure was significantly higher than the OECD average (31%). However, moderate use of digital devices at school and during leisure time is linked to better learning outcomes.

The PISA survey also examined resilience at school; in other words, how the participating countries managed to maintain or improve their students' average performance scores, the performance of students of the lowest socio-economic status and the students' sense of belonging.

Finland succeeded best at maintaining the students' sense of belonging and satisfaction with life. Examining these three factors shows that only four participating countries – Japan, Korea, Finland and Denmark* – ranked above the OECD average for all three factors.