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ERIC Number: ED523051
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2009
Pages: 165
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: 28
ISBN: ISBN-978-9-2640-6068-5
Top of the Class: High Performers in Science in PISA 2006
OECD Publishing (NJ1)
When parents or policy-makers are asked to describe an excellent education, they often describe in fairly abstract terms the presence of a rich curriculum with highly qualified teachers, outstanding school resources and extensive educational opportunities. Nevertheless, excellent inputs to education provide no guarantee for excellent outcomes. To address this, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development's (OECD's) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has taken an innovative approach to examining educational excellence, by directly measuring the academic accomplishments and attitudes of students and to exploring how these relate to the characteristics of individual students, schools and education systems. This report presents the results. Its development was guided by three questions: (1) Who are the students who meet the highest performance standards, using top performance as the criterion for educational excellence? What types of families and communities do these students come from?; (2) What are the characteristics of the schools that they are attending? What kinds of instructional experiences are provided to them in science? How often do they engage in science-related activities outside of school?; and (3) What motivations drive them in their study of science? What are their attitudes towards science and what are their intentions regarding science careers? The report shows that countries vary significantly in the proportion of students who demonstrate excellence in science performance. Interestingly, scientific excellence is only weakly related to average performance in countries, that is, while some countries show large proportions of both high and poor performers, other countries combine large proportions of 15-year-olds reaching high levels of scientific excellence with few students falling behind. Moreover, the talent pool of countries differs not just in its relative and absolute size, but also in its composition. Student characteristics such as gender, origin, language, or socio-economic status are related to top performance in science but none of these student characteristics impose an insurmountable barrier to excellence. It is particularly encouraging that in some education systems significant proportions of students with disadvantaged backgrounds achieve high levels of excellence, which suggests that there is no inevitable trade-off between excellence and equity in education. There are lessons to be learnt from these countries that may help improve excellence and equity in educational outcomes. The report shows that top performers in science tend to be dedicated and engaged learners who aspire to a career in science but the report also reveals that top performers often do not feel well informed about potential career opportunities in science, which is an area school policy and practice can act upon. The link between attitudes and motivations is strengthened by evidence suggesting that motivation among top performers is unrelated to socio-economic factors but rather a reflection of their enjoyment and active engagement in science learning inside and outside school. At the same time, in a number of countries there are significant proportions of top performers who show comparatively low levels of interest in science. While these education systems have succeeded in conveying scientific knowledge and competencies to students, they have been less successful in engaging them in science-related issues and fostering their career aspirations in science. These countries may thus not fully realise the potential of these students. Fostering interest and motivation in science thus seems an important policy goal in its own right. The potential payoff seems worth this investment: a large and diverse talent pool ready to take up the challenge of a career in science. In today's global economy, it is the opportunity to compete on innovation and technology. Appended are: (1) Data Tables; and (2) Standard Errors, Significance Tests and Subgroup Comparisons. Individual chapters contain notes. (Contains 2 boxes, 15 figures and 53 tables.)
OECD Publishing. 2, rue Andre Pascal, F-75775 Paris Cedex 16, France. Tel: +33-145-24-8200; Fax: +33-145-24-8500; Web site:
Publication Type: Numerical/Quantitative Data; Reports - Research
Education Level: Secondary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development
Identifiers - Assessments and Surveys: Program for International Student Assessment