The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an international assessment of the skills and knowledge of 15 year olds, coordinated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). It assesses whether students approaching the end of compulsory education have acquired the reading, math, and science skills that will help them to succeed in life.
The OECD defines math skills as “an individual’s capacity to formulate, employ and interpret mathematics in a variety of contexts. This includes reasoning mathematically and using mathematical concepts, procedures, facts and tools to describe, explain and predict phenomena. Mathematical literacy also helps individuals recognise the role that mathematics plays in the world and make the well-founded judgements and decisions needed by constructive, engaged and reflective citizens.”1
In its report on the 2006 PISA results, the OECD outlines the importance of math skills in today’s world:
With the growing role of science, mathematics and technology in modern life, the objectives of personal fulfilment, employment and full participation in society increasingly require that all adults, not just those aspiring to a scientific career, should be mathematically, scientifically and technologically literate. The performance of a country’s best students in mathematics and related subjects may have implications for the role that that country will play in tomorrow’s advanced technology sector, and for its overall international competitiveness. Conversely, deficiencies among lower-performing students in mathematics can have negative consequences for individuals’ labour-market and earnings prospects and for their capacity to participate fully in society.2
An outstanding issue is whether good results on the PISA math tests set students on a path to pursue advanced credentials in related fields. Over time, we might expect to see a relationship between these scores and the number of graduates in science, math, computer science, and engineering.