Center on International Education Benchmarking

Top Performing Countries

The Center on International Education Benchmarking provides information about and analysis of the education systems in top performing countries around the world.  We define top performing as those countries whose students rank, on average, in the top ten on reading, mathematics and science scores on the OECD’s PISA assessment in the most recent year that the assessment was administered.  CIEB’s current list of Top Performers is based on the 2012 PISA results.  Many of the countries that ranked in the top ten on PISA 2009 remained at the top on PISA 2012, but profiles from three new countries—Taiwan, Estonia and Poland—have been added.  The Netherlands, New Zealand and Australia dropped off of CIEB’s Top Performers list, however these countries’ students continue to do well on PISA, performing above the OECD average.  Archived profiles of these countries education systems can be found here.  While Liechtenstein’s scores on PISA 2012 qualified it as a Top Performer according to CIEB’s criteria, we do not include it in our list as its population is only 37,009, which makes useful comparisons with other countries and economies limited.  Our objective is to learn from countries and economies and adapt those lessons for use in the United States at the national, state or district levels.

Learn about the world’s best performing education systems and what sets them apart.

CanadaCanada, due to a wide series of reforms in the past two decades, has emerged as a educational leader in international assessment rankings. Learn more about how increased teacher autonomy and targeted policy directives changed the way Canadian students learn.

EstoniaEstonia emerged as a top performer on PISA 2012 — a remarkable achievement for a country that only gained independence in 1992. Find out how changing Estonia’s education system contributed to the economic development of the whole country.

FinlandFinland’s education system is widely acknowledged as one of the best in the world. Click here to see how world-class teacher training drives success in this Nordic country.

Hong KongHong Kong, driven by a diverse population with ever-changing needs, has refocused its education system to mesh with its international economic goals. Explore the policies that pushed them to the top.

Japan Japan’s students work harder and learn more than students in almost any other country. Discover how Japan has relieved student pressure without decreasing student performance.

South KoreaSouth Korea’s education system underwent a series of rapid changes in the second half of the 20th century resulting in a comprehensive school system and a 70% increase in adult literacy. Find out what this world leader is doing now.

PolandIn 2000, Poland ranked below average in all three subjects. By 2012, Poland ranked in the top ten countries in science and reading and 13th in mathematics. Find out what reforms led to this remarkable rise in achievement.

Shanghai-ChinaShanghai-China’s students topped the international rankings their first time out of the gate in 2009, and managed to improve on that performance in 2012. Discover how this education-driven city taught its students to be so successful.

SingaporeSingapore, a tiny island nation, built a world-class national education system from scratch. Explore how their Ministry of Education is promoting 21st-century education for all.

TaiwanTaiwan has consistently ranked highly on PISA in math and science, and in 2012 Taiwan’s reading performance improved dramatically to rank 7th place overall. Read more about the programs and initiatives that led to this improvement.

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