The most recent report from PISA 2015 results is about findings regarding how the United States compares to other countries on social emotional learning. These questions were answered by 15-year-old students based on their home and school life.
The first question was about general life satisfaction of the students. The students from the United States were close to the OECD average for all 72 countries involved. One interesting note was some of the higher performing countries, like South Korea, reported very low levels of life satisfaction among their students. On the other hand, students in Northern European countries, like the Netherlands and Finland, reported the highest levels of life satisfaction. These European countries were also some of the best academic performers with above average scores, although less than some East Asian nations. Researchers found students feel higher levels of life satisfaction when they report meeting friends after school, having the support of teachers and parents and engaging in physical activity.
Another indicator that they measured was bullying. Students answered questions about a range of different types of bullying they may experience in school and how often this occurs. Compared to other countries, the US students reported slightly more bullying than average. One characteristic that helped lower the bullying rate in a school was when students reported that they felt their school had a strong disciplinary climate.
The third indicator the OECD gathered data on was school anxiety. Students in the United States reported feeling more anxious about doing well in school, taking tests and preparing for exams than most other countries. This is interesting because the United States is actually tested less than most other countries, and the tests students take here do not have as significant of consequences as those in other countries. So the question is, why are our students so stressed?
While there are many factors that go into answering this question, researchers found that one reason could be tied to student motivation. The students in the US reported some of the highest levels of motivation compared to other countries. 95% of said they “want to be the best, whatever [they] do” compared to the 65% OECD average and 85% said they “want to be one of the best students in [their] class” compared to the 59% OECD average. While high student motivation is a good thing for student achievement, the types of motivation seen by students in the US could be related to higher anxiety levels. US students have a competitive motivation. It is more extrinsic than intrinsic where they want to do well to get into a good college or get good grades, rather than having intrinsic motivation to do well because they are interested in the subject. Researchers could not confirm a causal relationship but they found that intrinsic motivation is related with lower levels of anxiety and extrinsic with higher levels. So while it is great that students want to do well in school, it is important to know that reasons behind this desire to succeed.