How does PISA – the Programme for International Student Assessment – work?

Although it’s the brainchild of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, based in Paris, France, the assessment is designed by education experts from around the world. In fact, since the programme began in 2000, every one of the more than 80 countries and economies that have participated in PISA has contributed some of their best minds to creating the test the whole world can take.

Watch the video or read the transcript:

The assessment tries to find out whether students can apply what they have learned in school to real-life situations. It covers science, reading, mathematics and some more innovative subjects, like collaborative problem solving or financial literacy.

Countries volunteer to participate in PISA. If a country is not equipped to take part in such a large-scale assessment, regions of that country may participate on their own; but PISA aims for entire countries to sign up. Once a country’s participation is approved by the PISA governing board, individual schools are chosen, based on stringent criteria, to represent all 15-year-old students in that country.

Students who participate in PISA are randomly chosen from among all the 15-year-olds enrolled in grade 7 or higher in the selected schools. They take the test in the same language they use in their normal classes. Students aren’t asked to recall dates and names they may have memorised. Instead, they are asked to interpret texts, solve mathematics problems or explain a phenomenon scientifically, using their knowledge and reasoning skills. Students aren’t given individual reports on how they did on the PISA test, but their scores count towards a national mean score.

Despite what you may hear every three years when PISA results are announced, PISA is not just about ranking countries. It’s about showing whether school systems are becoming more – or less – effective in preparing their students for further study or for work. It’s about learning whether 15-year-olds are acquiring the social and emotional skills they’ll need to thrive – like knowing how to work and communicate with others. And it’s about taking the results of the assessment, translating them into millions of pieces of data, and putting those pieces together to create a picture of what the most effective education systems look like.

In the end, these systems are the ones in which all students, not just the most advantaged, are given the best opportunities to learn and the greatest support in realising their potential. PISA aims not only to show how these systems are constructed, but to encourage countries to learn from each other’s experience in building fairer and more inclusive school systems. 

This is a transcript of the video.


©OECD Observer October 2016

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