These Countries Have the Smartest High School Kids

The world’s top high school students are outside of the United States. According to a report commissioned by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 24% of students in the U.S. fail to meet a basic level of skills after they leave school – that’s the second-worst percentage of all high-income countries analyzed on this scale.

According to the OECD Report, “Universal Basic Skills What Countries Stand To Gain,” economic growth and social development are closely correlated to the skills of a country’s population. “Earlier research shows the causal relationship between a nation’s skills – its knowledge capital – and its long-run growth rate, making it possible to estimate how education policies affect each nation’s expected economic performance,” it notes.

The OECD survey focuses on 76 countries that currently have data on school enrollment and on achievement. The country ranking is based on a triennial survey called the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), an international assessment that measures how 15-year-old students perform in reading, mathematics, science, and problem-solving. In addition to student performance, the survey considers enrollment rates, gross domestic product (GDP) and population.

Click through to learn more about the top 20 countries with the smartest high school kids.

20. United Kingdom

Average Score: 504
Mathematics Score: 493.9
Science Score: 514.1
Share Below 420 Points: 0.196
Increased Score: 515

The United Kingdom has an enrollment rate of 1.00 out of a total population of 64.9. The UK’s GDP is $2.547 trillion, and its per capita GDP is $39,225.

“Virtually all 15-16 year-olds in the United Kingdom are enrolled in education (education is compulsory until age 16). However, only 34% of 18-year-olds are enrolled in secondary education and 30% are enrolled in tertiary education. Taken together, these figures show a drop of nearly 40% in enrolment rates between the ages of 16 and 18, i.e. within the two years following the end of compulsory education,” according to OECD.

19. Austria

Average Score: 505.7
Mathematics Score: 505.5
Science Score: 505.8
Share Below 420 Points: 0.185
Increased Score: 514.9

Austria has an enrollment rate of 0.95 out of a total population of 8.6. Austria’s GDP is $401 billion, and its per capita GDP is $46,906.

“On average, 83% of 15-19 year-olds in OECD countries are enrolled in an education program, typically at the upper secondary level, or in transition to higher levels of education. However, Austria’s enrolment rates are below average: 79% of young Austrians participate in formal education,” according to OECD.

18. Slovenia

Average Score: 507.6
Mathematics Score: 501.1
Science Score: 514.1
Share Below 420 Points: 0.177
Increased Score: 515.7

Slovenia has an enrollment rate of 0.97 out of a total population of 2.1. Slovenia’s GDP is $63 billion, and its per capita GDP is $30,266.

“The proportion of 15-29 year-olds who are neither employed nor in education or training (NEET) remained comparatively low: 11% in 2012 compared with the OECD average of 15%. Still, this represents an increase of 2.5 percentage points since 2008,” according to OECD.

17. New Zealand

Average Score: 507.7
Mathematics Score: 499.7
Science Score: 515.6
Share Below 420 Points: 0.207
Increased Score: 519

New Zealand has an enrollment rate of 0.97 out of a total population of 4.6. New Zealand’s GDP is $166 billion, and its per capita GDP is $36,343.

“In 2012, New Zealand 15-year-old students scored an average of 500 points on the PISA mathematics assessment – above the OECD average of 496 points but representing a decline of 23 points since PISA 2003 ... At the same time there has been an increase in the proportion of students who failed to reach the baseline level of performance from 15% in 2003 to 23% by 2012,” according to OECD.

16. Belgium

Average Score: 509.7
Mathematics Score: 514.5
Science Score: 504.9
Share Below 420 Points: 0.196
Increased Score: 521.5

Belgium has an enrollment rate of 0.98 out of a total population of 11.2. Belgium’s GDP is $482 billion, and its per capita GDP is $442,923.

“Belgium continues to have one of the lowest shares of private expenditure on education of all OECD and partner countries. In total, 95% of the expenditure for all levels of education combined comes from public sources in Belgium, compared with the OECD average of 84%,” according to OECD.

15. Ireland

Average Score: 511.8
Mathematics Score: 501.5
Science Score: 522.0
Share Below 420 Points: 0.151
Increased Score: 519.1

Ireland has an enrollment rate of 0.98 out of a total population of 4.8. Ireland’s GDP is $236 billion, and its per capita GDP is $48,787.

“Ireland had the third greatest annual expenditure per student in all OECD countries by public educational institutions for all services excluding research and development (R&D),” according to OECD.

14. Australia

Average Score: 512.8
Mathematics Score: 504.2
Science Score: 521.5
Share Below 420 Points: 0.177
Increased Score: 522.1

Australia has an enrollment rate of 0.99 out of a total population of 23.9. Australia’s GDP is $1.153 trillion, and its per capita GDP is $48,288.

“Annual expenditure on pre-primary education (for 3-year-olds and older) is USD $10,734 per student in Australia, much higher than the average for OECD countries of USD $7,428, and more than double the expenditure in Chile, Hungary and Switzerland where annual expenditure per student is around USD 5 000 or less,” according to OECD.

13. Germany

Average Score: 518.8
Mathematics Score: 513.5
Science Score: 524.1
Share Below 420 Points: 0.161
Increased Score: 527.2

Germany has an enrollment rate of 1.00 out of a total population of 81.1. Germany’s GDP is $3.742 trillion, and its per capita GDP is $46,166.

“Some 10% of young people (15-29 year-olds) in Germany were neither employed nor in education or training (NEET) in 2012, a smaller proportion than the OECD average of 15%,” according to OECD.

12. Vietnam

Average Score: 519.9
Mathematics Score: 511.3
Science Score: 528.4
Share Below 420 Points: 0.113
Increased Score: 524.6

Vietnam has an enrollment rate of 0.64 out of a total population of 91.6. Vietnam’s GDP is $548 billion, and its per capita GDP is $5,983.

“Years of focused investment into expanding enrolments at all levels and efforts to define and enforce minimum quality standards … across the country have paid off,” according to the World Bank.

11. Poland

Average Score: 521.7
Mathematics Score: 517.5
Science Score: 525.8
Share Below 420 Points: 0.127
Increased Score: 526.9

Poland has an enrollment rate of 0.96 out of a total population of 38.5. Poland’s GDP is $991 billion, and its per capita GDP is $25,703.

“Poland has improved its performance in PISA2 between 2003 and 2012: for instance in mathematics it increased by 2.6 score points per year, while the OECD average remained broadly unchanged. Poland’s mean score in PISA 2012 mathematics was 518 points against an OECD average of 494 points, with statistical differences between the performance of girls and boys,” according to OECD.

10. Canada

Average Score: 521.8
Mathematics Score: 518.1
Science Score: 525.4
Share Below 420 Points: 0.131
Increased Score: 528

Canada has an enrollment rate of 0.98 out of a total population of 35.8. Canada’s GDP is $1.647 trillion, and its per capita GDP is $445,982.

“Canadian 15-year-olds score significantly above the OECD average in mathematics, but between 2003 and 2012 their average mathematics scores deteriorated, while the share of top performers decreased and the share of low performers increased,” according to OECD.

9. Netherlands

Average Score: 522.5
Mathematics Score: 523
Science Score: 522.1
Share Below 420 Points: 0.151
Increased Score: 529.9

The Netherlands has an enrollment rate of 1.00 out of a total population of 16.9. The Netherland’s GDP is $824 billion, and its per capita GDP is $48,798.

“In most countries, the years spent in education are normally not combined with work. Young people in the Netherlands, however, spend the most number of years both working and studying (including work-study programs): 5 years on average for 15-29 year-old students versus an average of only 2 years across OECD countries,” according to OECD.

8. Switzerland

Average Score: 523.1
Mathematics Score: 530.9
Science Score: 515.3
Share Below 420 Points: 0.138
Increased Score: 529.9

Switzerland has an enrollment rate of 0.98 out of a total population of 8.1. Switzerland’s GDP is $460 billion, and its per capita GDP is $56,816.

“Swiss 15 to 29 year-olds tend to stay in school through upper secondary. Among 15-29 year-olds without an upper secondary qualification, 79% continued their studies, 12% were employed and 9% were neither employed nor in education or training (NEET), compared with the OECD averages of 69%, 16% and 15% respectively,” according to OECD.

7. Estonia

Average Score: 531
Mathematics Score: 520.5
Science Score: 541.4
Share Below 420 Points: 0.085
Increased Score: 534.1

Estonia has an enrollment rate of 0.98 out of a total population of 1.3. Estonia’s GDP is $37 billion, and its per capita GDP is $27,729.

“Public expenditure on education as a share of total public expenditure decreased between 2005 and 2011, from 14.5% (against an OECD average of 13.1%) to 13.7% (OECD average: 12.9%),” according to OECD.

6. Finland

Average Score: 532.1
Mathematics Score: 518.8
Science Score: 545.4
Share Below 420 Points: 0.107
Increased Score: 537.3

Finland has an enrollment rate of 0.99 out of a total population of 5.5. Finland’s GDP is $228 billion, and its per capita GDP is $41,394.

“According to the PISA 2012 results, Finland was not only among the top-performing countries in mathematical skills, but also one of the few in which boys performed as well as girls. The socioeconomic background of the students also had a weaker impact on their results than average,” according to OECD.

5. Chinese Taiwan

Average Score: 541.6
Mathematics Score: 559.8
Science Score: 523.3
Share Below 420 Points: 0.123
Increased Score: 547.7

Taipei has an enrollment rate of 1.00 out of a total population of 23.5. The Chinese Taipei’s GDP is $1.080 trillion, and its per capita GDP is $45,997.

“Taiwan and Japan tied for 4th place in a global math and science education ranking administered by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), with the top five places taken by countries in Asia, the BBC reported Wednesday,” according to China Post.

4. Japan

Average Score: 541.6
Mathematics Score: 536.4
Science Score: 546.7
Share Below 420 Points: 0.104
Increased Score: 546.9

Japan has an enrollment rate of 0.98 out of a total population of 126.7. Japan’s GDP is $4.917 trillion, and its per capita GDP is $38,797.

“Although expenditure per student is comparatively high in Japan, total expenditure relative to GDP is small, partly reflecting Japan’s high GDP and shrinking school-age population. Some 2.9% of Japan’s GDP is devoted to public and private expenditure on primary, secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education, significantly less than the OECD average of 3.9%,” according to OECD.

3. Korea

Average Score: 545.8
Mathematics Score: 553.8
Science Score: 537.8
Share Below 420 Points: 0.086
Increased Score: 549.8

Korea has an enrollment rate of 0.98 out of a total population of 50.7. Korea’s GDP is $1.895 trillion, and its per capita GDP is $37,413.

“Korea remains one of the top performers in PISA. Almost one in three Korean 15-year-old students reached the highest level in mathematics, the greatest share among all OECD countries. Between 2003 and 2012, Korea saw around a 6 percentage point increase in the share of students performing at or above Level 5, the highest increase among OECD countries except Poland,” according to OECD.

2. Hong Kong – China

Average Score: 558.1
Mathematics Score: 561.2
Science Score: 554.9
Share Below 420 Points: 0.075
Increased Score: 561.8

Hong Kong has an enrollment rate of 0.92 out of a total population of 7.3. Hong Kong’s GDP is $421 billion, and its per capita GDP is $57,677.

“Among students from the 65 countries/regions participating in the study, Hong Kong 15-year-old students ranked second in both reading and scientific literacy and third in mathematical literacy, demonstrating that their performance in these three areas is among the best at international level,” according to the Hong Kong Education Bureau.

1. Singapore

Average Score: 562.5
Mathematics Score: 573.5
Science Score: 551.5
Share Below 420 Points: 0.098
Increased Score: 567.3

Singapore has an enrollment rate of 0.97 out of a total population of 5.5. Singapore’s GDP is $467 billion, and its per capita GDP is $84,821.

“Singapore scores highest in the PISA 2012 assessment of problem solving, with 562 points on the PISA proficiency scale. Only Korea has a similarly high score…More than nine out of ten students in Singapore (92%) can complete tasks at the baseline level (Level 2) or higher in problem solving and a majority of 15-year-old students in Singapore can complete tasks at least at Level 4, which means that they are able to engage with moderately complex situations in a systematic way,” according to OECD.

-- Written by Greg Sandler


PISA does not give a collective score for all subjects combined. The program aggregates a score for each subject area, and countries are ranked by their mean score in each area. The "mean" score across all participating countries is 500.

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