PISA Scores and Poverty Rates

Poverty’s impact on test scores is real

I am a bit like a broken record when it comes to talking about poverty and test scores.  I’ve recently heard David Berliner talk about his book 50 Myths and Lies That Threaten America’s Public Schools at the DATAG conference I helped organize in New York.  A key theme of Dr. Berliner’s presentations was the role of poverty in educational attainment.  Get the book and read it–the citations are worth the cost of the book as you work to debunk the critics of public education. He inspired me to go back to the aggregated web sites I’ve been saving as possible blog topics, and I found clear and coherent charts illustrating the relationship between poverty rates and PISA scored on this February 2014 blog entry on The Principal Difference website from NASSP.

“PISA: It’s Still ‘Poverty Not Stupid” takes a close look at PISA scores broken out by rates of poverty, and finds these results:


  • Of all the nations participating in the PISA assessment, the U.S. has, by far, the largest number of students living in poverty–21.7%. The next closest nations in terms of poverty levels are the United Kingdom and New Zealand have poverty rates that are 75% of ours.
  • U.S. students in schools with 10% or less poverty are number one country in the world.
  • U.S. students in schools with 10-24.9% poverty are third behind Korea, and Finland.
  • U.S. students in schools with 25-50% poverty are tenth in the world.
  • U.S. students in schools with greater than 50% poverty are near the bottom.

I really like how the author, Mel Riddile, the Associate Director for High School Services of NASSP and a former high school principal, displays the US rankings broken out by poverty rates within the groups mentioned above.  Compared to other nations, our students in communities/schools with poverty rates comparable to other nations actually excel, and those who want to reform education should be looking at the elements of those excellent communities to identify the factors that actually support student success.  The data are consistent with what most defenders of public education have been saying for years: Poverty counts when attempting to deal with the challenges of schooling children in a nation as diverse as ours.

You’ll find links to other authors making similar points based on PISA scores in this blog as well.  If you’re a school administrator, you might want to follow this blog regularly.  Good reading!




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