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Beyond Shanghai and PISA

Binyan Xu, Yan Zhu, and Xiaoli Lu
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
Research in Mathematics Education
[Reviewed by
Frederic Morneau-Guerin
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Mainland China’s participation in the Program for International Student Assessment began in 2009, when 5,115 15-year-old Shanghai students from 152 different schools took part in the survey. From this first participation in PISA, the performance of the Shanghai students placed them at the top of the study, which inevitably caused some eyebrow-raising around the world. Students from China’s major metropolitan area continued their impressive performance in PISA 2012, again taking first place in mathematics. However, the PISA survey also revealed that the Shanghai students’ self-concept was relatively low, even though it has been widely demonstrated that self-confidence and a mathematical disposition are significantly positively associated with academic success in mathematics.
Given the heavy emphasis on mathematical skills in the teaching of this subject in China, it may be surprising to learn that, until recently, no assessment system had been put in place to measure such skills. To fill this gap, China has started to carry out national projects focusing both on defining a conceptual set of basic skills in school mathematics and on developing a corresponding assessment framework. By presenting the main results of the project, “Research on Chinese Students’ Mathematical Competencies Assessment” of the Humanities and Social Science Key Research Base of the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China, this book aims to illustrate the research on mathematical skills and disposition in China from an empirical perspective.
While the PISA survey represents a window onto the field of mathematics education, through which researchers can acquire a better understanding of mathematics education in China, the 20 chapters that make up this thematic volume aim to provide educational researchers interested in mathematical skills with a detailed portrait of the development of mathematical skills in Chinese students.
The third chapter of the book is, in a way, its cornerstone, as it presents research that aims to establish a set of mathematical skills and an assessment framework for compulsory education. Building on this set of skills, a dozen subsequent chapters examine mathematics curricula in China through the ages to paint a picture of the conceptual development of mathematical skills such as mathematical problem formulation and solving, mathematical representation and transformation, mathematical reasoning and argumentation, and mathematical modeling and communication. This review is accompanied by the presentation of empirical studies conducted at the national level among eighth-grade students to assess their performance in each of the individual skills. Finally, a few chapters in the last third of the book address the non-cognitive skills of Chinese students in learning mathematics.
To conclude, it should be mentioned that, in addition to a brief presentation of the publishers and authors, the book contains an index of subjects as well as an index of cited authors.

Frederic Morneau-Guerin is a professor in the Department of Education at Universite TELUQ. He holds a Ph.D. in abstract harmonic analysis.