While overall educational attainment is rising globally, students’ educational success is still largely a function of their economic status growing up, according to a report released Tuesday by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
The report draws from data from OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment, which features data on 72 countries and economies.
With performance at the age of 15 being a strong predictor of higher education and early career outcomes, the report notes that performance disparities related to socio-economic status often develop early and widen throughout students’ lives. More than two-thirds of the achievement gaps seen among students at the age of 15 were associated with having more books at home at age 10. Half of the achievement gap among 25-29-year-olds was already evident when students were 10-year-olds.
Fifteen-year-olds who scored in the top quarter of reading were also 38 percent to 53 percent more likely to complete higher education than those who scored in the bottom quarter. These students were also more likely to be working in a position that required higher education by the age of 25 than those in the bottom quarter of performance at age 15.
Disadvantaged students also expressed lower levels of psychological well-being than advantaged students, even if they performed similarly in the PISA. The OECD noted that socio-economically advantaged students expected to be employed in more prestigious occupations significantly more often than disadvantaged students.
“Students sense of control over learning ... in itself is a very powerful predictor for their success in learning,” said Andreas Schleicher, OECD’s Director for the Directorate of Education and Skills, in a press briefing.
Still, the disparities among students’ social well-being were small, with 77 percent of advantaged students and 69 percent of disadvantaged students reporting that they feel they belong at school.
The findings also reinforces previous studies that show that students from low-income and single-parent households tend to perform significantly lower as a result of wealth translating to fewer educational resources. According to the report, students from low-income and single-parent households are between 7 percentage points and 17 percentage points less likely than those from wealthier, two-parent homes to complete a higher education.
On average, the mean PISA science score among disadvantaged students was 452 points, while advantaged students saw an average score of 540 points. This gap of 88 points represents the equivalent of about three full years of schooling, the report says.
“The elephant in the room is the socio-economic profile of the schools,” Schleicher said.
Early-childhood education, social emotional learning, and providing more resources for disadvantaged students in schools are all lessons for policy that OECD prioritizes. The report also identifies the need for managing diversity in the classroom, encouraging parent engagement, and support for teachers to foster students’ well-being to create a positive learning environment as key improvement levers.
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A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.