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PISA Test: Better Hungarian Results but Still Plenty of Room for Improvement

Péter Cseresnyés 2019.12.03.

Hungarian students showed slightly improved academic competence compared to the test three years ago, the results from the 2018 PISA test show, but after the historic low of the last 2015 survey, the numbers are still below the OECD average, and far below Hungary’s best results from 2009. The slight progress is seen by the government as the verification of the effectiveness of past education reforms, while critics say the latest results are more of a sign of stagnation and that public education is in sore need of comprehensive changes.

The triennial Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) test measures the academic performance of 15-year-old students from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and their partner countries. The 2018 study was completed by 600,000 students from 79 countries, which researchers used to measure competency in reading, math, and science. As each educational system progresses with the school curriculum at a different pace, the test does not measure factual knowledge, but how students are able to use what they have learned at school.

Hungarian Students Struggle With Problem Solving, Fresh PISA 2015 Results Show

In recent years, the importance of PISA measurements has grown tremendously, as experts and the general public tend to judge the success or failure of entire education systems based only on these results. Some argue that this thinking is counterproductive and exaggerated, damaging education worldwide, however, the importance of these professionally designed tests that are independent of state and institutional interests is undisputable.

Last year’s results show Hungary scored 476 points in reading, improving from 470 points in the 2015 assessment. Hungary’s score in math rose to 481 points from 477, and the country’s score in science also climbed to 481 points from 477. Hungarian students achieved 30th place in reading, 33rd in mathematics, and 32nd in science.

The results give reason for some optimism; however, the current numbers are still slightly below the OECD average, and far from the all-time high performance from ten years ago: Hungary is still about twenty points below the 2009 results.

Image: oecd.org

Seeing the poor results three years ago, László Palkovics, then state secretary for public education in an interview, denied that it was proof of the government’s bad education policy. The current minister for innovation and technology marked two main reasons for the poor results: a significant change in teacher transfer of knowledge, and new teaching methods are needed, he said, stressing that the family background in Hungary is too strong for the schools to compensate for.

In regard to the new results, state secretary for public education Zoltán Maruzsa emphasized the shrinking role of the family background in students. According to the politician, developments in public education are behind the improving tendencies.

Looking at the global ranking, according to the 2018 data, China finished with the highest scores by far (at the same time, the credibility of the survey is strongly undermined by the fact that only some developed areas were surveyed).

The European list was topped by Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Poland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, but Austrian, Danish, Norwegian and German students were also in the lead.

Among the Eastern European and post-Soviet countries, Estonia, Poland, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Latvia, and Croatia managed to perform better than Hungary. In the meantime, Lithuania, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria did worse than us.

Featured photo illustration by Szilárd Koszticsák/MTI