Proficiency levels of students aged 15


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Italy show signs of improvement, but nearly one in four students does not have sufficient skills in mathematics     


Increasing the population’s proficiency levels is one of the targets of the Lisbon agenda and its follow-up through to 2020. The Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment) project, promoted by the Oecd and implemented in Italy by Invalsi, sets out to assess what skill levels 15-year-old students nearing the end of compulsory education have achieved in three areas: reading, mathematics and science. In 2012, as in 2003, mathematics was the main survey area. Italy had a lower performance than the average of Oecd and Eu countries participating in the survey; yet, it confirmed the signs of improvement already seen between 2006 and 2009. Disparities between the North-west and North-east areas and the South were still large: while improving since 2006, the latter was still below the national average, even compared to the Centre.



[a] Data for Latvia and Malta are not available.
[b] Countries are ranked in descending order considering the percentage of 15 year old students with skill levels equal to or higher than the baseline (2 to 6).

Although the results show progress compared with previous iterations of the survey, nearly one student out of four in Italy did not achieve a sufficient level of mathematics. The top two levels in the mathematics scale included slightly less than 10.0 percent of students from Italian schools, while the percentage rose to 15 percent in Finland, Poland and Germany and to 19 percent in Belgium and the Netherlands. Nearly one student out of five demonstrated lower-than-basic reading proficiency. Only 6.7 percent of students in Italy featured in the top two levels as against more than 12 percent in Finland, Belgium and France.




[a] Regions are ranked in descending order considering the percentage of 15 year old students with skill levels equal to or higher than the baseline (2 to 6).

An analysis of the regional results shows a sharply asymmetrical school education system. The performance gap is large for all proficiencies, with a clear advantage for the Centre and North. For reading, in all northern regions, over 80 percent of students placed at or above basic proficiency levels (in Lombardia, this value was nearly 90 percent). On the contrary, in Sardegna, Campania and Sicilia over 27 percent and even 37 percent in Calabria did not achieve satisfactory levels.

In mathematics, too, the situation is markedly worse in the South and Islands: the number of 15-year-olds with unsatisfactory proficiency levels was around 45.8 percent in Calabria, more than 35 percent in Campania and Sicilia, while it did not reach 14 percent in the autonomous province of Trento, in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Veneto and Lombardia. Most points of excellence (more than 15 percent) are concentrated in these northern regions, with the best results in Veneto (18.7 percent) and in Friuli (17.1). These results are comparable with those in the scientific area, where, again, nearly 30 percent of students in Campania and Sicilia and 40 percent of students in Calabria obtained unsatisfactory results; on the contrary, those achieving excellent results exceeded 10 percent of the total in Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Trentino and Lombardia.

There were also marked differences according to type of school attended:  just 5.6 percent of students attending liceo (academically oriented upper secondary schools) had insufficient skills in reading, compared with over 20 percent of students attending technical institutes and over 45 percent of those attending vocational institutes. Around half of students of these latter had unsatisfactory skills in mathematics.


Comparisons at European level

icona Students by level of reading proficiency in Eu countries
 - ods]

icona Students by level of mathematics proficiency in Eu countries
 - ods]

National data

icona Students by level of reading proficiency and type of school

icona Students by level of mathematics proficiency and type of school

Comparisons at regional level

icona Students by level of reading proficiency by region

icona Students by level of mathematics proficiency by region

icona Students by level of science proficiency by region

icona Students by level of reading and mathematics proficiency by region
 - ods]

Definitions used

The indicators proposed measure the percentage of students at each level of the overall literacy scales in reading, mathematics and science. Reading is assessed on a proficiency scale of 1-7 (level 1b is the lowest, followed by level 1a, level 2, level 3 and so on until level 7), while a 6-level scale is used for mathematics and science (the second one is the minimum sufficient level). A lower level than one has, also, been introduced for students unable to answer the easiest questions. 


Oecd/Invalsi, Pisa: Programme for International Student Assessment


Invalsi/Oecd, Le competenze in matematica, lettura e scienze degli studenti quindicenni italiani, Rapporto nazionale Pisa 2012

Oecd, Pisa 2012 Results: What Students Know and Can Do – Student Performance in Mathematics, Reading and Science, 2013

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