Preliminary Thoughts on TIMSS/PIRLS 2012

I had been meaning to post about this for a long time. Better late than never, I suppose.

The TIMSS and PIRLS are international assessments of academic ability in math, science and literacy that are conducted once every four years. They are similar to the PISA tests, although the latter are less purely academically focused and more a test of pure IQ.

Here are the results of TIMSS/PIRLS (h/t North Asian). And here are the results of PISA from 2009 for comparison.

As can be expected, they are highly correlated (r > 0.8 to be precise). This however makes the few differences all the more interesting. The gap between the East Asian countries and European countries, though substantial in PISA, is significantly greater in TIMSS/PIRLS. And most strikingly, both Russia and Israel go from being laggards in the OECD group to being at the forefront of the class.

  Math (PISA) Math (TIMSS)
Korea 539 613
Sweden 494 484
Russia 468 539
Israel 447 516

From performing more poorly than Turkey in the PISA reading test, Russia soars to take second global position in the PIRLS.

  Reading (PISA) Reading (PIRLS)
HK 533 571
Sweden 497 542
Russia 459 568
Israel 474 541

Meanwhile, some European countries, especially Sweden and Norway, plummet quite substantially.

What explains all this?

There are two possibilities. First, the TIMSS/PIRLS tests may have poorer samples than the PISA. For instance, we know from the latter that Moscow has a 10-point IQ lead over the rest of the country. If Muscovite pupils are over-sampled, then it’s quite feasible for the consequent result to be closer to say Hong Kong or Korea than to Greece or Turkey.

However, a second possibility is that the PISA-TIMSS/PIRLS gap is a proxy for differences in the quality of educational systems. It is more feasible to prepare for the TIMSS/PIRLS than it is for PISA, which is closer to an IQ test and is, as such, more difficult to improve through policy interventions. It is nowadays fashionable to lambast the ex-Soviet and East Asian school systems for “rote learning,” “stifling creativity,” and whatnot. However, the data shows that under these systems, pupils perform well above the levels they “should” as indicated by their underlying IQ levels. Meanwhile, in places where “creativity” and “self-expression” are given full bloom, where science lessons focus on the evils of plastic bags in between sermons on LGBT appreciation and the progressiveness of Islamic civilization, academic performance is somewhat less than what might expect based on the local students’ apparent IQ levels.

This all makes sense, I suppose. To be truly “creative” you first have to acquire a ton of skills and knowledge via the old method of applied hard work. Without that, “creativity” simply boils down to a sea of PoMo-waffling curmudgeons and MacBook-toting hipsters. And whoever needs that?

New Delhi Cuts Ties With PISA

India backs out of global education test for 15-year-olds.

Indians were put to test for the first time in the last assessment in 2009. On the global stage, they stood second last among 73 countries, only beating Kyrgyzstan on reading, math and science abilities… This time around, sources said India shied away from the assessment as government officials felt our children were not prepared for such a test.

“India didn’t sign up for the PISA 2012 assessment because when countries were asked to sign up for that assessment, India had only signed up for the PISA 2009 assessment, which it carried out with a year later delay in 2010,” said Juliet Evans, who handles communication and administration for the PISA Secretariat. Unlike India, several other countries like Costa Rica, Malaysia, Georgia and the UAE who had carried out the PISA evaluation in 2010 did sign up for the upcoming assessment.

Which of these Soviet leaders does this remind you of?

Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev are all travelling together in a railway carriage. Unexpectedly the train stops. Lenin suggests: “Perhaps, we should call a subbotnik, so that workers and peasants fix the problem.” Stalin puts his head out of the window and shouts, “If the train does not start moving, the driver will be shot!” But the train doesn’t start moving. Khrushchev then shouts, “Let’s take the rails behind the train and use them to construct the tracks in the front”. But it still doesn’t move. Brezhnev then says, “Comrades, Comrades, let’s draw the curtains, turn on the gramophone and pretend we’re moving!”

Anyhow, most countries will continue participating, including some new ones. I am especially looking forwards to seeing how Vietnam performs. It is about ten years behind China, and its genetic IQ level is probably about 5 points lower than China’s. As such, if its IQ comes out to be appreciable lower than 95 (my own estimate is 90-92) then it would be a further blow against Ron Unz’s theory of the East Asian Exception (to the Flynn Effect).

Analysis Of Russia’s PISA 2009 Results

A few months ago I posted a table and map of Russian IQ’s as derived from regional PISA performance. Those figures are based on Jarkko Hautamäki’s slideshow comparing regional PISA performance in Finland and Russia.

That material is a bit inadequate because, as had been my custom up that point, I was only making IQ estimates based on the Math and Science components of the PISA tests, and avoiding Reading to maintain reverse compatibility with my (now disused, in favor of just IQ) Human Capital Index. In light of some realizations that verbal IQ is no less important than numerical, I have updated the figures to include the verbal component as well. This doesn’t create any radical changes – the overall IQ only drops by 0.3 points – so I reuse the same map.

(Note that the legend on the map isn’t converted to IQ. “PISA scores, mean 500, SD 100, have to be transformed into IQ values, mean 100, SD 15, by adding or subtracting the deviation from the mean in the relationship 100 : 15 = 6,67.”)


There are any numbers of comments one can make, but I will confine myself to the most important ones:

(1) In some regions, margins of error are high, as samples were low. Nonetheless, it is still possible to identify some concrete patterns. The overall estimate is very accurate because the sample was N=5,308 and representatively distributed across the country.

(2) Moscow pupils performed very well, at the level of the highest scoring OECD countries like Finland, Taiwan, and Korea. This is especially impressive considering the significant numbers of immigrants in that city from the North Caucasus and Central Asia, who come from poorly-scoring countries and rarely have good Russian. This is surely the result of a century of attracting Russia’s (the USSR’s) cognitive elite.

(3) St.-Petersburg and Tyumen oblast performed above the OECD average, while a few other regions performed at or only slightly below the OECD average.

(4) Among ethnic Russian republics, Siberian regions performed well, while the Urals and southern regions performed badly.

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rec1man On Indian IQ

My post on Indian IQ (max potential is low to mid 90′s) spawned an interesting analysis by commentator rec1man. It is not very well organized but he does have a ton of useful information that deserves to be highlighted. It’s reprinted in full below interspersed with occasional commentary by myself:

Caste Analysis

75% of the Indian population gets affirmative action quota in India and is genetically low IQ.
25% of the Indian population is upper caste and higher IQ and does not get quota.
Most of the upper caste population has Y-DNA = R1A = Russian / Slavic.

AK: The Slavic max. potential IQ appears to be around 100.

In North India there are 3 levels of quota, each quota level corresponding to a different IQ level:
In North India Upper caste > Other Backward Caste > Dalit – Untouchable – Tribal.

In South India, there are 4 levels of quota:
Brahmin > Dravidian Backward Caste > Dravidian Most Backward caste > Dalit-Untouchable-Tribal.

Upper castes and Brahmins dont get quota. In North India, upper castes and Brahmins are genetically the same of Aryan origin. In South India, the only Aryan origin caste is Brahmin.
The others are Dravidian.

5% of the Indian population is of Oriental race and they dont have a high IQ.

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Disagree With Ron Unz’s Conclusions On Chinese IQ

He writes:

These scores are indeed truly remarkable, and completely confirm the apparent pattern of Lynn’s IQ samples, in which desperately poor East Asians tend to score at or above the levels of the most successful and well-educated Western populations… But since the total population is at least well into the hundreds of millions, heavily rural as well as urban, the average PISA score of 520—corresponding to an IQ of 103—cannot be too dissimilar from the overall Chinese figure. And with China’s per capita GDP still only $3,700 and well over half the population still living in rural villages when the tests were conducted, these are absolutely astonishing results… Although opinions may certainly differ, I regard this new evidence as very strong support for my “East Asian Exception” hypothesis.

China isn’t anywhere near as backward as he portrays it.

(1) The urban-rural ratio was essentially 50/50 according to the 2010 Census. Furthermore, rural Chinese don’t really suffer from the absolute destitution common to peasants in Third World countries. They own their own land and it is almost impossible for them to lose it. Malnutrition is now close to non-existent. Slums are now very rare. According to a Gallup poll, Chinese now actually struggle less than Americans to buy food.

(2) Total Chinese meat consumption overtook US meat consumption in 1990, signifying a nutritionally adequate figure (as Americans eat a lot of and perhaps a bit too much meat anyway). Today Chinese meat consumption is half the US level. The PISA 2009 cohort would have been born in 1993, when Chinese nutrition had already essentially converged with the First World.

(3) He uses nominal GDP per capita which is quite meaningless. The PPP level of Chinese GDP per capita is $8,400 and that figure is probably underestimated.

Basically, if we adjust for the fact that in terms of basics (food, education, housing) China is now essentially equivalent to developed countries, it would make sense that its average IQ level is now only about 5 points from its potential maximum.

But really my fundamental problem with the “East Asia Exception” hypothesis is the huge paradox it exposes: Why was it Europe, and not China, that first underwent the Industrial Revolution? And the (initially unrelated) Scientific Revolution, for that matter? If as Ron Unz says the Flynn Effect barely applies to East Asian populations, then what you’d have had five centuries ago is 100mn Chinese, 20% of them urban – with an average IQ of maybe 95; and 100mn Europeans, only 5% of them urban – with an average IQ of 75. Sure Europe had various advantages (as chronicled by Jared Diamond, Kenneth Pomeranz, etc) but surely it couldn’t have trumped the effects of a 1 S.D. IQ advantage? That is why I believe the East Asia Exception to be historically implausible.

The Puzzle Of Indian IQ: A Country Of Gypsies And Jews

The question of Indian IQ is a big puzzle. Far trickier than China’s IQ which I think I’ve basically figured out (101-102 today; 106-108 genetic ceiling).

The PISA-adjusted IQ of India – as extrapolated from the states of Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh, which are relatively rich and are reputed to have good school systems by Indian standards – is a miserly 75.4; Richard Lynn, in his latest estimates based on an international standardized test from 1970 and a more recent TIMSS study in the states of Rajasthan and Orissa is 82.2. The chart above compiled by Steve Sailer from Lynn’s data on numerous IQ tests also indicates it is the low 80′s. In my opinion the low 80′s figures given by the IQ tests is more accurately reflective of today’s Indian g because PISA is after all an academic test and Indian schools leave a lot to be desired.

Regardless, the differences between Indians, and East Asians and Europeans, are huge. India is in fact at the upper level of sub-Saharan African IQ which typically ranges from 65 to 80. There are lots of factors holding India back: Malnutrition (which is on average perhaps worse than in sub-Saharan Africa), vegetarian diets, poor education system, a moderately high rate of consanguineous marriage. But all that said the sheer size of the gap makes me skeptical that all of it is down to environmental factors alone.

On the other hand the average IQ of Indian immigrants to the US is an Ashkenazi Jewish-like 112. Ramanujan was assessed by G.H. Hardy, no lightweight himself, as the most gifted mathematician of his age. Going back further in time, India has a pretty stunning religious, linguistic, mathematical, and philosophical heritage. Only a continuous stream of very high IQ individuals could have both created and sustained such a heritage.

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