Portugal’s Education per PISA 2022: The Good, the Bad, and the Average

The OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA 2022) shows Portuguese 15-year-olds scoring around the OECD average in math, reading, and science — but well above average for various aspects of well-being and happiness.

In a nutshell: Portugal’s 15-year-olds last year were dumber than those who were 15 before the Covid-19 pandemic. Or at least they scored fewer points on mathematics, reading comprehension, and science tests. That’s the bad news.

The data comes from the so-called PISA 2022 report, which stands for the Programme for International Student Assessment, in which Portugal took part since 2000. The report, released this week by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, was met with much consternation in the Western press, including lamentations in Portuguese publications about the “unprecedented” drop in student averages and calls for an overhaul of the country’s education system.

The good news is that well-being and sense of belonging among Portuguese students are oftentimes in far better shape than among students in countries where students scored better on the tests.

Let’s dig in.

Where Portugal Is Just Average

As is the general trend across all countries analyzed, students in Portugal had lower scores in 2022 in mathematics and reading than in 2018, and roughly the same in science.

Around the world, the results show a decline in academic competence since before the pandemic: as the OECD puts it in one example, when it comes to mathematics, the average 15-year-old in 2022 in Portugal — as well as France, Greece, Sweden, and other countries — “scored at the level expected of a 14-year-old in 2018.”

Students in over a dozen other countries suffered even bigger drops in performance.

The data represents 690,000 15-year-old students who took the PISA test in 2022 in 81 participating countries and regions. Asian territories and countries dominate the top of the rankings — Singapore came in first across all three categories, with Japan, Korea, and Hong Kong all scoring at the top and well above OECD averages.

Portugal’s 2022 test results, on the other hand, were very close to the OECD average across all three areas.

As U.S. transplants, we found this interesting: Students in Portugal scored better than their U.S. counterparts in math — but not in reading or science.

Where Portugal Falls Short

Compared to the rest of the continent, students in Portugal did worse on the math and science tests than those in many other European countries, including the U.K., France, Germany, Spain, Estonia, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Ireland, Austria, Czech Republic, and others.

And while Portugal’s students scored higher in reading than those in Spain and France, they were still behind students in Ireland, the U.K., Poland, Sweden, and a handful of other European nations.

We also have fewer than average super-achievers: Around 7% of Portugal’s students were top performers in math, compared to the OECD average of 9% (and 43% in Singapore and 32% in Chinese Taipei). And 5% of students in Portugal were top performers in reading and science, compared to the OECD average of 7%.

In addition, PISA attempts to compare performance based on students’ socio-economic background, and students in Portugal — who “were among the most advantaged students who took the PISA test in 2022,” as 32% of them “were in the top international quintile of the socio-economic scale” — scored “significantly” below students of similar socio-economic background in Estonia and Japan, for example.

Where Portugal Does Well

Bullying is less of an issue in Portugal: the OECD average for students reporting being regularly bullied is 8%, but it’s below 5% in Portugal.

And while the OECD average for students reporting not feeling safe on their way to school was 8%, it was 5% in Portugal. Similarly, 7% of OECD students overall felt unsafe in the classroom, but only 4% in Portugal. In addition, only 5% of students here reported not feeling safe in hallways, cafeterias, and restrooms, compared to the OECD average of 10%.

Not surprisingly, then, 82% of students in Portugal felt that they belonged at school, compared to the OECD average of 75%, and only 10% reported feeling lonely at school, compared to 16% across the OECD.

Surprisingly, however — given the penchant of our countrymates to kvetch — only 12% of Portuguese students said they weren’t satisfied with their lives, which was the same as in 2018. The OECD average for that metric has grown from 16% in 2018 to 18% in 2022.

The drop in test performance around the world, by the way, wasn’t all due to school closures caused by Covid: the analysis found “no clear difference in recent performance trends between education systems with limited school closures … and systems that experienced longer lasting school closures,” according to the OECD

You can see the table of country test rankings here, read some of the insights here, and more details about Portugal here.

And if you think students’ happiness is just as important as their test scores, if not more, as we do, take a gander at the perhaps unfortunately titled chapter Students’ feelings.

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