International Comparisons

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), coordinated by the OECD, assesses the skills of 15-year-olds in OECD countries and a number of partner countries. The assessment in the year 2000 demonstrated serious weaknesses in German pupils' performance. In the test of 41 countries, Germany ranked 21st in reading and 20th in both mathematics and the natural sciences, prompting calls for reform. Major newspapers ran special sections on the PISA results, which were also discussed extensively on radio and television. In response, Germany's states formulated a number of specific initiatives addressing the perceived problems behind Germany's poor performance.

By 2006, German schoolchildren had improved their position compared to previous years, being ranked (statistically) significantly above average (rank 13) in science skills and statistically not significantly above or below average in mathematical skills (rank 20) and reading skills (rank 18). In 2012, Germany achieved above average results in all three areas of reading, mathematics, and natural sciences.

The PISA Examination also found big differences in achievement between students attending different types of German schools. According to Jan-Martin-Wiadra: "Conservatives prized the success of the Gymnasium, for them the finest school form in the world - indeed, it is by far the number one in the PISA league table. But what they prefer to forget is that this success came at the cost of a catastrophe in the Hauptschulen." The socio-economic gradient was very high in Germany, the students' performance there being more dependent on socio-economic factors than in most other countries.

Performance on PISA 2003 (points earned) by school attended and social class type school social class "very low" social class "low" social class "high" social class "very high"
Hauptschule 400 429 436 450
Gesamtschule 438 469 489 515
Realschule 482 504 528 526
Gymnasium 578 581 587 602
PISA 2003 - Der Bildungsstand der Jugendlichen in Deutschland - Ergebnisse des 2. internationalen Vergleiches

Some German teachers' representatives and a number of scientists disputed the PISA findings. They claimed, amongst other things, that the questions had been ill-translated, that the samples drawn in some countries were not representative, that German students (most of whom had never done a multiple choice tests in their lives before) were disadvantaged by the multiple choice questions, that the PISA questions had no curricular validity and that PISA was "in fact an IQ-test", which according to them showed that dysgenic fertility was taking place in Germany. Additionally, the OECD was criticized for following its own agenda of a strictly economically utilitarian education policy--as opposed to humanist education policy following the German ideal of Bildung--and for trying to establish an educational testing industry without democratic legitimation.