DepEd Will Also Fail in PISA Reading Comprehension, Math and Science Exams

PISA assesses a student's ability to distinguish fact from opinion (reading comprehension), a student's ability to make sense out of numbers (mathematics), and a student's ability to make observations and draw conclusions (science). With the dismal performance of Philippines' students in the three PISA tests, the Philippines' Department of Education (DepEd) is demonstrating with their responses and comments that education policy makers and educators in the Philippines are likewise going to fail in these exams.

First, no one has really appreciated how sobering the results are. Although the country is last in reading comprehension, and second to last in both mathematics and science, the much more important point is what the scores are telling us. "Fewer than 1 in 5 students in the Philippines have the minimum level of reading skills for further education", according to PISA. Below is the grade distribution (All of the data and figures shown in this post are copied from OECD (2019), PISA 2018 Results (Volume I): What Students Know and Can Do, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/5f07c754-en.):


The PISA reading comprehension suggests that 80 percent of 15 year-olds in the Philippines cannot proceed to 10th grade. Compared to Singapore, 70 percent of students from the Philippines are performing worse than the lowest performing student in Singapore. On the other hand, 70 percent of students from Singapore have better scores than the cream of the crop from the Philippines. That means even the elite portion of the Philippines student population is well below average in Singapore. 80 percent of students in the Philippines cannot answer a question like the one shown here:



In the above question, there is only one wrong answer: Avian Deals.

Half of the students cannot answer a question like the one displayed below:



The results in mathematics and science are no different, yet educators seem to focus only on reading comprehension. The following is the score distribution in mathematics.



In fact, the above looks almost identical to reading comprehension. Therefore, the same observations can be stated:

The PISA mathematics exam suggests that 80 percent of 15 year-olds in the Philippines cannot proceed to 10th grade. Compared to Singapore, 70 percent of students from the Philippines are performing worse than the lowest performing student in Singapore. On the other hand, 70 percent of students from Singapore have better scores than the cream of the crop from the Philippines. That means even the elite portion of the Philippines student population is well below average in Singapore. 80 percent of students in the Philippines do not reach level 2, yet "level 2 proficiency is by no means a “sufficient” level of mathematics proficiency for making well-founded judgements and decisions across a range of personal or professional situations in which mathematical literacy is required", according to PISA.

Here are the results in science:


If I say "80 percent of 15 year-olds in the Philippines cannot proceed...", I will sound like a broken record. But here is the piece that should really wake us up.


While 80 percent of students in the Philippines do not reach level 2, for the rest of the countries that participated in PISA, nearly 80 percent do. Students from the Philippines cannot "use basic or everyday scientific knowledge to identify a valid conclusion from a simple data set".

With regard to these PISA exam results for the Philippines, this is DepEd's response:

"By participating in PISA, we will be able to establish our baseline in relation to global standards, and benchmark the effectiveness of our reforms moving forward. The PISA results, along with our own assessments and studies, will aid in policy formulation, planning, and programming.”

DepEd will take measures in the following areas:

(1) K to 12 review and updating
(2) Improvement of learning facilities
(3) Teachers and school heads’ upskilling and reskilling through a transformed professional development program and
(4) Engagement of all stakeholders for support and collaboration.

With this response, it is clear that DepEd will also fail in reading comprehension, math and science exams. The poor performance is across the board. The entire basic educational system is broken. 

I have been asked several times on Facebook on what the solution is. In response, I will just cut and paste from this blog:

How Do Math Teachers in the Philippines Fare?

Students in the Philippines have not been participating in international standardized exams for over a decade now. In 2003, fourth grade students in the Philippines ranked 23rd out of 25 countries and in 2008, during which only students from science high schools participated, the Philippines ranked last among ten countries participating. Teachers in primary and secondary schools in the Philippines also partook in the Teacher Education and Development Study in Mathematics (TEDS-M). The results of this study have been recently analyzed and in terms of quality assurance, teacher education in the Philippines does not fare well. In terms of both content and pedagogical knowledge, math teachers in the Philippines are near the bottom.

The following graphs summarize the findings.

Above graph based on
Quality Assurance in Teacher Education and Outcomes: A Study of 17 Countries
Lawrence Ingvarson, Glenn Rowley
Educational Researcher
Vol 46, Issue 4, pp. 177 - 193
First published date: May-22-2017

Quality assurance in teacher education includes:

  • Recruitment and Selection
  • Accreditation of Programs
  • Entry to Profession
The above measure is found to correlate strongly with scores obtained by the teachers on tests that measure their knowledge in mathematics. With regard to content, teachers in the Philippines obtain a low score compared to teachers in other countries.

Above graph based on
Quality Assurance in Teacher Education and Outcomes: A Study of 17 Countries
Lawrence Ingvarson, Glenn Rowley
Educational Researcher
Vol 46, Issue 4, pp. 177 - 193
First published date: May-22-2017
Not only do teachers in the Philippines perform poorly in math knowledge exams, they also score low in tests that measure how well they can teach math.

Above graph based on
Quality Assurance in Teacher Education and Outcomes: A Study of 17 Countries
Lawrence Ingvarson, Glenn Rowley
Educational Researcher
Vol 46, Issue 4, pp. 177 - 193
First published date: May-22-2017
With the above in mind, it is only timely to look back at an old article written by Flor Lacanilao on this blog:

Suggestion to Solve Philippines' Basic Education Problems

by Flor Lacanilao

Friday, June 1, 2012


Studies on education abroad have shown that the best way to improve basic education is to improve first higher education. And the best way to improve both is to put only the right people in charge. Right people refers to those who have made major contribution to one’s field, as shown by properly published research works (that is, following internationally accepted criteria). At present, none of those in charge in higher and basic education has such minimum requirement.

For basic education, the above prerequisite will insure that (a) program components are based on tested studies abroad, (b) curricular changes are based on properly published studies of local problems, and (c) thay have undergone trial runs or verification at selected schools before nationwide implementation.

For more discussion, see “K+12 most likely to fail” (Inquirer, 17 Feb 2012) and “A critique of some commentaries on the Philippine K-12 program”.

[Dr. Flor Lacanilao obtained his Ph.D. (specialization in comparative endocrinology) from the University of California at Berkeley. He served as chairman of the Zoology Department at UP Diliman, chancellor of UP Visayas, and chief of SEAFDEC in Iloilo. Email florlaca@gmail.com]

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