The EU as a whole is seriously lagging behind in maths, but the picture is more encouraging in science and reading where Europe is on track to achieve its 2020 target for reducing the percentage of low achievers to below 15%.
The findings reveal that ten Member States (BG, CZ, DE, EE, IE, HR, LV, AT, PL and RO) have achieved significant progress in diminishing their share of low achievers across all three basic skills since 2009. But five EU countries (EL, HU, SK, FI, SE) have seen an increase in the number of low achievers. Other Member States achieved mixed results. Overall, EU performance is slightly better than the United States, but both lag behind Japan.
Androulla Vassiliou, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth, commented: "I congratulate those Member States which have improved their performance, but it is clear that the EU as a whole needs to work harder. Member States must sustain their efforts to tackle low achievement in school education to ensure that youngsters have the skills they need to succeed in the modern world. The results are a reminder that investment in quality education is fundamental for Europe's future."
The PISA survey has been carried out every three years since its launch in 2000. All 34 OECD member countries and 31 partner countries participated in PISA 2012, representing more than 80% of the world economy. Around 510 000 pupils aged from 15 years 3 months to 16 years and 2 months took part in the tests, which covered maths, reading and science, with the main focus on maths.
The evidence base that PISA produces enables policy-makers and educators to identify the characteristics of high-performing education systems and to adapt their policies.
The European Commission and OECD recently signed a cooperation agreement to work closer together in three areas: skills strategies, country analyses and international surveys.
What the findings say about the EU - Commission analysis
Reading: The percentage of low achievers in reading has declined from 23.1% in 2006 and 19.7% in 2009 to 17.8% in 2012. If this trend continues, the 15% benchmark may be achievable by 2020. So far, only seven EU countries have reached this benchmark (EE, IE, PL, FI, NL, DE and DK). Notable progress has been achieved by CZ, DE, EE, IE, HR, LT, LU, AT, PL and RO.
Maths: No progress in improving the percentage of low achievers at EU level since 2009. However, four Member States (EE, FI, PL, NL) are among the top performing countries world-wide with a rate of low achievers in maths below the EU benchmark of 15%. No other Member State has yet reached this level. Significant progress (more than 2 percentage points) was made by BG, EE, IE, HR, LV, AT, PL and RO.
Science: Steady improvement in science skills across the Union. The EU percentage of low achievers has dropped from 20.3% in 2006 to 17.8% in 2009 and 16.6% in 2012. Ten Member States are below the 15% benchmark: CZ, DE, EE, IE, LV, NL, PL, SI, FI, UK. Steady progress has been achieved by CZ, DE, EE, IE, ES, LV, AT, PL and RO.
The analysis highlights that the socio-economic status of pupils has a significant bearing on performance levels, with those coming from low-income households much more likely to be low achievers in maths, science and reading. Other significant factors include the mainly negative effects of being of migrant background, the importance of attending early childhood education and care, as well as the gender gap in reading proficiency (girls do much better than boys).
The analysis also reveals the relationship between PISA results and the recently published OECD Survey of Adult Skills. It concludes that, to be effective, policies need to focus on improvement of primary and secondary school education. Beyond that it is usually too late to compensate for the missed opportunity in school.