Explaining Student Performance: Evidence from the international PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS surveys

Liam Julian

Jens Henrik Haahr, et al.
Danish Technological Institute
November 2005

The European Union commissioned this thick report-which crunches data from the PISA, TIMSS, and PIRLS surveys-to uncover ways for European schools to improve basic-skills education. Among its findings: countries should focus education resources on their lowest-performing students. When this is done, the authors write, "A high degree of equality in achievement scores within countries (i.e., a low variance around the mean) can be achieved without compromising the overall level of achievement scores in reading, mathematics, and science." But the report goes on to claim that, when students are "divided into separate groups according to their academic performance," the gaps widen between high- and low-achievers. This, it speculates, could be because schools that separate students based on academic ability generally provide less attention to struggling youngsters than to their savvier peers. Although the researchers claim it is possible to cultivate equality without sacrificing quality (they cite Finland as an example), more often than not schools' formulae entail holding bright students back while waiting for others to catch up. Just as struggling kids deserve extra instruction, high-flying achievers deserve to have their singular needs met, too. Of course, NCLB has come under criticism for lavishing attention on the bottom tier of test-takers to the detriment of academically gifted youngsters, who are often ignored. This report's recommendations-Edusocialism, really-would lead to a far worse situation.