International exams like PISA and TIMSS examine the academic achievement of students, and, according to many, they contain clues regarding the future human capital of each country. If such is the case, success on these exams may well predict a country’s future economic growth, which is one of the reasons that such great importance is attached to the results of these exams in discussions of education policy in many countries, including Israel.
Taub Center researchers Nachum Blass, Michael Debowy, and Prof. Alex Weinreb looked at the validity of claims of the relationship between observed exam results and economic growth and found that there is no evidence that improving exam scores improves the predictions of a number of models for economic growth.
The study found that even if a positive relation of some sort was found between achievements and future economic results, the correlation between past economic variables and exam achievements was strong and significant. In other words, economic factors past and current of a country predict measures of student success on international exams much better than exam achievements predict future economic growth.
The study focused on achievement scores in mathematics, science, and reading on international exams from 1999–2003 and their relationship to economic growth variables from 2010–2019, as well as their relationship to the same growth indicators from 1980–1999. The analysis shows that growth at the end of the 20th century explains both the achievements on the exams and the growth between 2010 and 2019. Essentially, the exam scores reflect the past economy of the country and do not predict its future.
After examining dozens of models, the study found that scores contribute very little to predicting the rate of GDP growth. In addition, any correlation between economic development and scores diminishes with time elapsed since the exam. The only models that identified any relationship between scores and measures of future economic growth shows that the scores on tests conducted between 1999 and 2003 contributed between 0% and 14% of the variance between GDP per capita growth in 2010–2019, with an average of less than 1%, while ignoring the lack of statistical significance in the estimates. Had the research been limited to statistically significant estimates, the contribution would not have exceeded 8%. In light of this, the researchers find no support for the claim that international exams predict future economic growth of a country.