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Drivers of student performance: Asia insights

A well-educated citizenry is an economic and social necessity. But there is little consensus about what it takes to deliver a quality education. Our latest research offers global findings as well as deep regional analysis—the focus of this article is Asia.

In two previous reports, one on the world’s best-performing school systems (2007) and the other on the most improved ones (2010), we examined what great school systems look like and how they can sustain significant improvements from any starting point. In this report, we switch our focus from systems to student-level performance, by applying advanced analytics and machine learning to the results of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). Beginning in 2000, and every three years since, the OECD has tested 15-year-olds around the world on math, reading, and science; it also surveys students, principals, teachers, and parents on their social, economic, and attitudinal attributes (Exhibit 1).

We analyzed a rich set of assessment and survey data.

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Using this rich data set, we have created five regional reports—covering Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa, and North America—that consider the drivers of student performance. In Asia, 13 countries and autonomous territories participated in the 2015 PISA. For our analysis, we divided these into three categories based on performance. High-performing Asia is composed of China (specifically the cities of Beijing, Guangdong, Jiangsu, and Shanghai), Hong Kong, Japan, Macao, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam. Oceania refers to Australia and New Zealand. Developing Asia is composed of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. High-performing Asia has high yet flat achievement; Oceania performs generally well, but scores appear to be declining; and Developing Asia is improving, but slowly and from a low base.

Our research is not intended as a road map to system improvement; that was the theme of our 2010 report, which set out the interventions school systems need to undertake to move from poor to fair to good to great to excellent performance. Instead, this report examines four specific factors that we found to be particularly important to student outcomes: mindsets, teaching practices, information technology, and early childhood education.

The report’s findings include the following four highlights.

Student mindsets have double the effect of socioeconomic background on outcomes

It is hardly news that students’ attitudes and beliefs influence their academic performance. The magnitude of this effect, and which mindsets matter most, is still under debate; we focused our research on these areas. While there is likely overlap between socioeconomics and student mindsets, we measured the effect of mindsets that is not explained by socioeconomics alone. By analyzing the PISA data, we found that mindset factors have double the predictive power (31 percent) compared to home environment and demographics (15 percent) on student PISA scores in Asia (Exhibit 2). This relationship also holds true in all other regions, reinforcing the importance of this finding.

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