It’s PISA time again. So?

by Marilyn Achiron 
Editor, Directorate for Education and Skills

Results from the most recent round of PISA surveys are scheduled for release in less than one month (3 December). Why should you care?

For lots of reasons, really. This month’s PISA in Focus highlights a few. For  example, the recently published Survey of Adult Skills finds a close link between countries’ performance in the different rounds of PISA and the literacy and numeracy proficiency of adults of the corresponding age group later on. This is an important connection because the Survey of Adult Skills reveals that highly skilled adults are twice as likely to be employed and almost three times more likely to earn an above-median salary than poorly skilled adults. In other words, poor skills severely limit people’s access to better-paying and more rewarding jobs. Highly skilled people are also more likely to volunteer, see themselves as actors rather than as objects of political processes, and are more likely to trust others. And many – if not most – of these skills are acquired at school.

Strong performers” in education, as identified by PISA 2009, are those countries and economies that are more successful at imparting those skills to their students than others. They — Canada, Finland, Hong Kong-China, Japan, Korea, New Zealand and Shanghai-China — are found in diverse regions, with different cultures and traditions, and are at different stages of development. But PISA finds that they all share a few common traits: a belief in the potential of all their students, strong political will, and the capacity of policy makers, educators, students and their families to make sustained and concerted efforts towards improvement.

Success in PISA is only partly about test scores. In fact, the most successful school systems are those that not only perform well, but ensure that every student has the chance to fulfil his or her potential. For example, Canada, Estonia, Finland, Hong Kong-China, Iceland, Korea and Liechtenstein all showed above-average performance in reading in 2009 and are places where socio-economic status has less impact on performance than it does in other countries.

As a regularly recurring survey, PISA can also track progress over time. Of the 26 countries with comparable information between 2000 and 2009, half – namely Albania, Brazil, Chile, Germany, Hungary, Indonesia, Israel, Korea, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Peru, Poland and Portugal – improved their reading performance during the period. The fact that such a diverse group of countries succeeded in raising the level of their students’ performance in reading is another indication that any country can improve, irrespective of its culture, traditions, level of development or initial level of skills.

Since its first round in 2000, PISA has become the international standard for measuring the quality, equity and efficiency of school systems. And because PISA shows that improvement is possible for all, governments and educators, students and parents around the world can learn from each other to build more effective and efficient school systems. In an increasingly knowledge-based economy, and where public budgets are tight, there is little that is more important.

If you’re still unsure about why you should care about PISA results, think of your child’s future, your own abilities at school or at work, and your country’s capacity to compete in a rapidly changing global economy. You’ll find the answers there.

For more information on PISA:
PISA in Focus No.34: Who are the strong performers and successful reformers in education?
Photo credit: Pencil ladder © Shutterstock

Leave a Reply