Center on International Education Benchmarking

Top Performing Countries

NCEE provides information about and analysis of the education systems in top-performing countries around the world. With the release of the 2018 PISA results, NCEE has identified a new list of top-performing countries. We identify this group of countries by looking at achievement in all three tested subjects. We also eliminate any top performers who did not perform at or above the OECD average on at least one of two key equity measures: percent of resilient students (students from the lowest socio-economic quartile who perform at the highest levels) and percent of low performers (those who perform below level 2 on PISA).

The new list is: Canada, China (including the provinces of Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang), Estonia, Finland, Hong Kong, Japan, Poland, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan. A profile of Poland, the new country on this list, will be posted shortly. Archived profiles of top-performing education systems on previous PISA administrations can be found here. 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.

Poland Poland provides a European example of dramatic educational change. In 2000, Poland ranked below average in all three subjects. In 2018, within Europe, Polish students were third in math and science and fourth best in reading. Find out more about Poland’s rise in the international league charts.

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.

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.

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.