Spain receives its worst ever science results in PISA test

Spanish students scored below the OECD average, ranking on the same level as pupils from Lithuania, Hungary and Russia

Public school students in Barcelona.
Public school students in Barcelona.Uly Martín

Spain has received its worst ever result in science in the 2018 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) test, a worldwide study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) of 15-year-old students in member and non-member states.

Overall, Spain ranks among the top 13 in the list of 79 countries

Spanish students scored an average of 483 points – the lowest score since the PISA test began in 2000, and a 13-point drop on the 2013 results. There was also a big difference in science scores between regions. A student from the northwestern region of Galicia scored an average of 519 points, on a par with students from Canada and Taiwan, while a student from Spain’s North African exclave of Ceuta, scored an average of 415.95 points, similar to pupils from Costa Rica and Albania.

In mathematics, Spain also performed poorly, scoring 481 points – five less than the last test in 2015, when it achieved its best result on record.

In both science and maths, Spain fell below the OECD average of 489 points, placing it on the same level as countries such as Lithuania, Hungary, the United States, Luxembourg and Russia.

As for reading, the Spanish results were not published after the OECD detected “anomalies” that indicated the students responded unnaturally quickly to the questions – “in less than 25 seconds.”

Overall, Spain ranks among the top 13 in the list of 79 countries, a position that has not significantly changed.

There are 62% more precarious teaching positions than in 2009

“The international trend shows that the educational systems of advanced countries is falling,” says Lucas Gortázar, a member of REDE, a network of experts that negotiates proposals and brings them to government. “The data shows a clear pattern. It’s not a phenomenon exclusive to Spain.”

The students who took this year’s test are the first generation in Spain to have experienced the education cuts that began in 2011 under former Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, of the conservative Popular Party.

Today there are 62% more precarious teaching positions than in 2009, and 2,214 fewer professors than a decade ago, according to Spain’s leading labor union CCOO.

In his book World Class, the head of PISA, Andreas Schleicher, recommends Spain focus less on memorizing information and more on areas such as critical thinking, teamwork and creativity to improve its test results.

According to Ángel Blanco, professor of didactics of experimental sciences at Málaga University, the PISA test forces students to “explain phenomenon, design experiments, investigate and identify evidence, which does not normally happen in Spanish classrooms.” Blanco says another problem is class sizes: “Teaching 15 students is not the same as teaching 30.”

PISA top performers

The Chinese provinces of Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang received the top overall score, obtaining 555 points in reading, 591 in mathematics, and 590 in science. Singapore came in second place. Estonia was the top-ranked country in Europe.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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