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International student assessments

since it regained independence, Latvia has participated in a number of international student assessments, including PisA3 (all cycles since 2000); the Progress in international Reading literacy study (PIRLs) in 2001 and 2006, and the Trends in International mathematics and science study (TIMss) in 1995, 1999, 2003 and 2007. overall, these studies confirm the improvement of Latvian students’ performance (oECD, 2014b). In PisA, Latvian students’ results in 2000 were below the OECD average, but later editions suggest that learning outcomes are coming closer to the average. Latvia made significant progress between 2000 and 2003, but only slight improvements more recently (see Chapter 1).

Although average performance provides useful comparisons it sometimes hides large variations in learning outcomes. PIsA 2012 showed that Latvia has a smaller proportion of students who lack basic skills, i.e. those who are below the PIsA proficiency level 2, than the oECD average. This still leaves 17% of students in Latvia without basic reading skills, almost 20% without basic skills in mathematics and around 12% without basic science skills (OECD, 2014a). The share of top-performing students is also smaller in Latvia than the OECD average. In PisA 2012, a mere 8% of Latvian 15-year-olds demonstrated mathematics skills at the highest proficiency levels (level 5 or above), compared to the OECD average of 12.6%. In reading and science the shares of top-performing students were 4.2% and 4.3% respectively, about half the OECD averages (8.5% and 8.4% respectively).

In response, the government has set ambitious targets to reduce the proportion of low performers in reading, mathematics and science to 13%, 15% and 10% respectively by 2020 and to increase the proportion of top performers to 7% in reading, 8% in mathematics, and 8% in science (MoEs, 2014). This latter target has already been met for mathematics but further improvement in the quality of teaching and learning will be needed if Latvia is to achieve the targets for reading and science (oECD, 2014b).

PISA 2012 further shows that student socio-economic background explains around 14.7% of the overall variation in mathematics performance, about the same as the oECD average (14.8%). This modest relationship suggests that while there are visible differences among students from different socio-economic backgrounds, the school system at least does not exacerbate them (oECD, 2013b, 2014b). As outlined in Chapter 1, however, the performance gap between rural and urban areas is much larger in Latvia than most OECD countries.

 
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