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Debunking Seven Myths About PISA

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November 18, 2016 09:53 am


With the release of the 2015 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results right around the corner, now is a good time to clear up some common misconceptions about the international assessment and what it reveals about education systems across the globe. Who better to do so than PISA Myth-Buster (and Director for Education and Skills and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the Secretary-General for the OECD) Andreas Schleicher, who stopped by the Alliance recently to give a sneak preview of the 2015 PISA.

But first, some quick background on the assessment.

What is PISA?

Issued by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), PISA tests the skills and knowledge of fifteen-year-old students in mathematics, reading, and science. Seventy-two economies took part in the 2015 assessment, which focused on science, and data from it will be released by the OECD on December 6. On December 7, the Alliance will host a deep dive into the results with a focus on the global economy. More:


PISA Myth-Busting

PISA Myth-Buster Andreas Schleicher broke down seven common myths about PISA during a recent visit to the Alliance.

PISA Myth 1: Top performing countries on PISA do well because they don’t include all of their students.

Reality: All samples in PISA are fully representative of the fifteen-year-olds that are enrolled in school, and are selected on a scientific basis to ensure that all students are represented equally. The share of fifteen- year-olds covered by PISA is 89 percent internationally, and 84 percent in the U.S.

PISA Myth 2: It’s all about culture.

Reality: PISA results over the years demonstrate that a number of countries and economies were able to improve educational performance without changing their culture. Between 2000 and 2012, a number of education systems improved student performance by more than a school year. These systems changed education policies and practices and saw significant gains in learning outcomes.

PISA Myth 3: The world is divided between rich and well-educated nations and poor and badly educated ones.

Reality: Less than a quarter of the performance variation among OECD countries is explained by GDP per capita. In other words, there are some countries that are not rich that provide really excellent education and countries that are very well developed but are not competitive in PISA rankings. The lesson here: money only gets you so far when it comes to achieving excellence in education, there are many other critical factors as well.

PISA Myth 4: Deprivation is destiny.

Reality: PISA shows very clearly that poverty is not destiny, and that education and public policy can make a great difference for students that are disadvantaged. In the last PISA in 2012, the 10 percent most disadvantaged students in Shanghai reached similar math scores to the 10 percent most privileged American fifteen-year-olds.

PISA results indicate that it is possible even in the most difficult conditions to provide excellent education, to attract the most talented teachers to the most challenging classrooms and to ensure that every student benefits from excellent learning.

PISA Myth 5: Excellence is not compatible with equity.

Reality: PISA results demonstrate that quality and equity are compatible policy objectives. In the 2012 PISA results, there were education systems in Asia, Europe, and North America with high and equitable learning outcomes.

PISA Myth 6: Excellence requires selection.

Reality: The highest-performing education systems are actually non-selective, providing similar opportunities for the entire student population.

PISA Myth 7:  Educational quality and personalization is all about class size.

Reality: The highest-performing education systems prioritize the quality of teachers over the size of classes. In these systems, when they have to make a choice between a better teacher and a smaller class, they are choosing quality teaching.

Watch the full webinar for more lessons from PISA:

Looking Ahead to PISA

Schleicher describes PISA as a mirror, allowing for countries like the U.S. to look at their education systems in the light of what the world’s leading education systems show is possible to achieve. The Alliance’s deep dive on PISA results on December 7 will do just that, asking key questions about the results including:

  • What lessons can be learned from high-performing countries, economies, and schools (using the PISA-based Test for Schools)?
  • Why does improving education outcomes for students matters for the U.S. economy?
  • What can the United States learn from the PISA results to ensure that all students, especially those who are traditionally underserved, are graduating from high school ready for college and a career?

Register now for the December 7 deep dive on PISA hosted by the Alliance.

Caroline Waldman is a communications associate at the Alliance for Excellent Education.


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