Wednesday, 18 December 2013

PISA results- what do they tell us?

Ok, so I am being brave and dipping my toe into controversial waters at the request of one of my parents and writing about the latest PISA results!

So what are the PISA results and what do they mean to those of us interested in education standards around the world? This from the National Centre for Education Statistics website (

"The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an international assessment that measures 15-year-old students' reading, mathematics, and science literacy. PISA also includes measures of general or cross-curricular competencies, such as problem solving. PISA emphasizes functional skills that students have acquired as they near the end of compulsory schooling. PISA is coordinated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental organization of industrialized countries and is conducted in the United States by NCES. PISA was first administered in 2000 and is conducted every three years. The most recent assessment was in 2012."

The 2012 results have just recently been released and for the second time in a decade, 15-year-olds in Shanghai have scored at the top of the PISA global education assessment, ranking number one in the world in reading, math and science. This is a great result and one that Shanghai can be proud of.

PISA though, is not a full stop on achievement standards and just as with any standardised assessment result , you need to drill deeper to get a picture of what the data is really telling us. For example, the results are not representative of China as a whole - while 84% of high school graduates in Shanghai go to college, less than 5% of the rural poor make it to university, with attendance in poor rural areas being just 40% (Mind the Gap: China's Great Education Divide; K Stout; CNN 17.12.13)

So, it could be reasonable to say that the results are a reflection of a wealthier, urban population rather than of a city and its surrounds as a whole. Taking a privileged, educated slice of society and having them sit the exams is bound to reflect in the results, which may be quite different if the rural poor results were added to the mix.

However, PISA does give some indications of achievement standards across the world, but I do have to ask myself, is the test measuring what we value? Do the results of the test lead to a positive change in practice that benefits the students? The 'so what?' question if you like. This is a question that does not just apply to PISA, it applies to all standardised test achievement results.

Here at Bradbury, we see standardised assessment results as one part of the picture of achievement as a whole. We recognise that any test is a reflection of that child's performance on that day. A day in which the student may be feeling sick, or tired or upset or any number of factors that may impact on the results. For this reason, we ensure that we triangulate any data against what we know of the child and what other assessments are telling us.

As the Principal, I look at the data as a whole, to gain an idea of trends, strengths and weak areas that may need reinforcement or support in some way: professional development or resources, for example. Teachers will examine the results to look for the outliers, to ensure that there are no surprises and if there  are, to follow these up. The educational leaders of the OECD countries that sit the PISA exams no doubt do exactly the same, albeit on a grander scale and hopefully, use the results to inform their decisions to make positive decisions about the educational opportunities for all of their students.


  1. Are parents informed as to their child's results on standardised tests, as well as how the school performed as a whole?

  2. Thanks for your views on the Pisa results. Interestingly I read an article that suggested that the schools that did well in the Pisa scores did so because of parents engagement in the child's education and active participation with the school. It is nice to know that this is something Bradbury encourages and does very well in.