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December 9, 2010

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Students top of class in global reading test

SHANGHAI students came top of the class in an international reading assessment, but must do better when deciding for themselves what to read.

City students made a stunning debut in the triennial Program of International Students Assessment.

They topped tables which focused on reading and also assessed mathematics and science this year.

Half a million 15-year-olds from 65 countries and regions took part in the two-hour test launched by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a Paris-based group that includes the world's major industrial powers.

"The 15-year-olds involved in the test have finished compulsory education in most countries, which indicates future national competitiveness," said Zhang Minxuan, director of the PISA Shanghai program and deputy director of the Shanghai Education Commission.

In reading, Shanghai students scored 556, ahead of South Korea with 539 and third-placed Finland on 536.

The OECD average is 493, which the United States, Sweden, Germany, Ireland, France, Denmark and Britain slightly exceeded.

Despite the overall good performance, Shanghai students scored low - minus 0.28 points - in independent reading strategies, which means they rely on teachers' instruction on what to read.

"We are accustomed to passive acceptance of teachers' lecturing," said a student surnamed Tao at Shixi High School. "We have few opportunities to choose."

Tao did a sample test and found it "very interesting" and easier than domestic exams. "Questions in our exams are usually abstract, while the PISA test questions come from real examples of daily life," she said.

The test also revealed that local students are poor at reading charts, tables and lists. Wei Chunlai, the mother of a middle school boy, said: "Students are poor at reading charts because these are seldom taught in school."

Local girls did much better than boys, with a gap of 40 points. The gender gap in reading is shared by other countries and areas.

The commission also plans to work out solutions to reduce the gender gap in reading.


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