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In the 2012 international test that measures what 15-year-old students know, called PISA, private school students did only a smidgen better than public school students on the math test. Almost seven percent of American 15-year-olds attend private school and they scored an average of 486, only four points more than the average public school student, and still below the international average of 494. Private school students did do a bit better in science at 508, surpassing the international average of 501.

Where private school students shine is in reading, outperforming their public school peers by 22 points. Private school students, if they formed a separate nation, would rank at #10 behind Ireland in this subject. However, if we broke out the private school students for each nation, their scores would be higher too and American private school kids would no longer be among the top 10 readers. Indeed, US private school students would be no better than average.

2012 PISA test scores of public school and private school students
ReadingMathScience
CountryCategory%MeanMeanMean
United States of Americapublic93.01497482498
United States of Americaprivate6.99519486508
OECD Totalpublic82.37490481492
OECD Totalprivate17.54519514520
OECD Averagepublic80.69491489496
OECD Averageprivate19.2527522528
OECD Total = OECD Total – (OECD as single entity) – each country contributes in proportion to the number of 15-year-olds enrolled in its schools
OECD Average – (country average) – mean data for all OECD countries – each country contributes equally to the average
Data generated from http://pisa2012.acer.edu.au

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Jill Barshay writes the weekly “Proof Points” column about education research and data, covering a range of topics from early childhood to higher education. She taught algebra to ninth-graders for...

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