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Shanghai test scores have everyone asking: How did students do it?

Shanghai, China, trounced the competition in an international test of 15-year-olds. The Programme for International Student Assessment measures skills in math, science, and reading.

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A person holds the 2009 OECD education report, the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) study, during a news conference in Vienna, Austria, Dec. 7.

Heinz-Peter Bader/Reuters

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When the results of an international education assessment put Shanghai and several other Asian participants ahead of the US and much of Western Europe, many Americans were shocked. “Top test scores from Shanghai stun educators” read the headline in The New York Times.

Meanwhile, many education and Asia experts felt vindicated. After years of saying that China was rapidly catching up or surpassing the US and the rest of the West in education, here was hard proof.

The assessment, released Tuesday and conducted by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), measures academic capabilities in math, science, and reading among OECD member nations and a few dozen other countries and what it calls economic partners, such as Shanghai. The scores come from the results of a test taken by 15-year-olds in these countries. There was no evaluation of China as a whole. Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Macao were all assessed separately.

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