In terms of secondary education, the German state of Saxony has knocked Bavaria off the top spot. Experts say the results of the latest PISA study are not that surprising.
Saxony's students are the best in Germany
In socio-economic terms, eastern Germany has long been straggling behind the western states. But it's catching up fast -- a recent survey deemed Dresden the ninth most dynamic city in the country, while the latest national PISA assessment presented in Berlin on Tuesday, Nov. 18, showed that Saxony's secondary school students are outperforming their peers across Germany.
PISA-E is the national equivalent to the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), the triennial worldwide test of 15-year-old schoolchildren's scholastic performance implemented by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Its aim is to test and compare schoolchildren's performance across the world, with a view to improving educational methods and outcomes.
Students with an immigrant background sometimes struggle to keep up
The third to have been conducted since 2000, the latest PISA-E study polled 57,000 15-year-olds in 1,500 schools across the country and concentrated on testing knowledge in natural sciences, mathematics and literacy.
Saxony came out top in every discipline in the 2006 study.
But put in an international context, Germany's results are decidedly mid-range. In terms of literacy skills, only three other German states along with Saxony -- Rhineland-Palatinate, Thuringia and Bavaria -- placed above international average, but they still lag far behind the top performers in Korea and Finland.
In the natural sciences, however, Saxony occupies second place behind Finland.
While Saxony is outperforming Bavaria for the first time, other outcomes of the report confirmed trends apparent in the first ever PISA-E survey published in 2000, which triggered what Germans dubbed "PISA shock" when the OECD results revealed that Germany's education system was a chronic underachiever.
German students tested for the 2000 report ranked in the lower half of those surveyed in the 32 leading industrial nations, well behind Britain, Japan, South Korea and much of continental Europe.
Why Saxony does so well
Eastern Germany has a strong science tradition
The results have continually shown a clear link in Germany between social background and educational success. The latest report reveals that that this correlation is most apparent in Bavaria.
"This is shameful," Marianne Demmer from the GEW education union told the Munich-based daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung, pointing out that middle class children were still much more likely to attend high school than children from poor homes or immigrant families.
"The main challenge faced by politicians is to help these young people," she said.
Experts, meanwhile, attribute Saxony's success to precisely this phenomenon. Compared to western German states, its schools contain fewer "risk" students, such as immigrants. Moreover, its shrinking population means there are fewer pupils per class.
Historically, the eastern states also benefit from a strong science tradition cultivated throughout the Communist era, Josef Kraus from the German Teachers' Association pointed out in an interview with SWR radio.
Saxony's decision track students into two rather than three tiers, which have been blamed by some experts for Germany's educational woes, has also helped the state's schools, education expert Klaus Klemm told Speigel Online.
"A functioning two-tier system can improve the performance of children with learning difficulties," said Klemm, who called the state's education system uniquely egalitarian.