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German Students Perform Poorly on the OECD’s PISA Test (2002)

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4. Summary of Results

– Germany was relegated to twenty-first place in reading competency. “Performance in most German federal states lies clearly below the OECD average.” State-to-state variations in student performance, which are quite striking in international comparison, can be viewed, among other things, as evidence of insufficient broad-based student support and of inadequate support for students in the lower score ranges. Despite the fact that fewer students from other countries have to repeat grades, almost every other participating country seems to have done a better job at bringing all students in a given age group up to a comparable skill level.

– Bavaria was the only German federal state that made it into the top third of the international rankings. Among German fifteen-year-olds, only those in Baden-Württemberg and Saxony scored high enough to match the average performance of students from the other OECD countries.

– In hardly any other participating country was the discrepancy between the best and the worst readers as great as it was in Germany’s federal states. Students in Finland, Japan, and Canada have a high level of reading competency, and they are homogenous [meaning that there is less variation between the best and the worst readers].

At-risk students: the percentage of at-risk students (at or below Proficiency Level I) is high in all German federal states, also in relation to the OECD average.

Pleasure reading: an average of 42 percent of German high school students reported that they do not read for pleasure. This number was very high in international comparison; the “Land of Poets and Philosophers” is thus the sad frontrunner when it comes to not reading for pleasure. Students who are not motivated to read have a harder time acquiring competence than their book-loving peers.

Effects of social background: the relationship between social background and competence acquisition is particularly pronounced in Germany. In none of the other thirty-two PISA countries was the difference in reading skills between adolescents from higher and lower social strata (children from educationally disadvantaged families or those with immigrant backgrounds) as great as in Germany. “Other countries succeed far better – despite similar population structures – in limiting the influence of social background and in reaching a higher overall proficiency level.”

A lack of successful integration: in all federal states with a relatively high percentage of foreign nationals – that is, the old federal states – performance by non-German students was considerably lower, especially in reading, but also in mathematics and the natural sciences.

School attendance of children from immigrant families: this poses an additional problem. Although more than 70 percent of schoolchildren whose parents were not born in Germany have attended educational institutions in Germany from nursery school on, it has been shown that their distribution among the different kinds of schools is clearly worse than that of their classmates whose parents were born in Germany. A high degree of urbanization inevitably leads to a proliferation of social problems in poor areas with weak infrastructures, so that local schools, which can only offer students limited options for social integration and individual support, face great burdens or are even overwhelmed at times. Therefore, schools in socially disadvantaged areas should have more teachers in order to be able to implement the necessary support programs.

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