Leveraging the power of PISA for schools

By Andreas Schleicher

Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

Key points:

– This year marks the 10th anniversary of PISA for schools. School leaders and teachers have access to high quality competence-based assessment frameworks and comparative data through the PISA-based Test for Schools
– Schools use the data from this test to take concrete actions to help their students
– The PISA for Schools community helps those involved exchange, reflect and innovate for school improvement

A little more than a decade ago, I gave a presentation to a group of American school leaders on the latest PISA results. It gave them a bird’s eye view on where school education in America stood in terms of the quality of learning outcomes and equity in the distribution of learning opportunities, compared with the world’s most advanced education systems. Among the questions that these school leaders raised were: What did all of this mean for them? What could they learn from the most advanced school systems? How were they similar, or different, from high-performing schools elsewhere in the world that operated in a similar social and economic context? That exchange marked the birth of PISA for Schools.

Empowering schools through data and dialogue

The OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has evaluated the quality, equity and efficiency of national school systems in over 80 countries and economies for more than 20 years. Through the data that PISA gathers, countries can benchmark their students’ performance while gaining valuable insights from ongoing policy dialogue. Helping school leaders and teachers have access to this high quality competence-based assessment framework and comparative data was now the goal. To do so, the OECD developed a school-level assessment based on the PISA frameworks that could deliver results on the PISA scale called the PISA-based Test for Schools (PBTS). This would help educators in schools take part in international professional peer learning. Like PISA, the PBTS measures 15-year-old students’ knowledge and competencies in reading, mathematics and science. It assesses their social and emotional skills as well as their attitudes towards learning and their learning environments. In 2021, we included the PISA Global Crises Module that asks students about their experience of distance learning during the pandemic.

But how does this help schools? After the test, each school receives a school report that shows the students’ results in a user-friendly format. They receive a reader’s guide and a video tutorial all designed to help the school use their data and take concrete actions. Some examples of these concrete actions include: In northeast Brazil, a school in Sobral has used the results both to inform peer learning among their science and maths teachers as well as to engage with students and their families. In Thailand, a group report explored the impact of bursary programmes designed to encourage school attendance among disadvantaged students and support their learning. In Portugal, school networks are leveraging their data to develop peer-learning opportunities with schools in different areas. In the US, the Gwinett County Superintendent’s office takes a life-cycle approach by regularly sharing the data from the assessment with both their participating high schools and middle schools to ensure alignment in student learning trajectories over time. In 2020, as part of their virtual teacher-training programme for 159 maths and science teachers drawn from 20 schools, they used the PISA frameworks to develop rich mathematical tasks coupled with engaging pedagogical strategies. In Spain, where several schools were early adopters of PISA for Schools, one teacher told us they value what this assessment offers their students because “they need to think, they need to connect and they need to extrapolate”. There are many more examples but school leaders and teachers are clearly eager to use their data, in their local context, to bring about change in the classroom.

Fostering a global peer-learning community for schools

Not only is the data helpful for schools in their context, but the PISA for Schools provides opportunities to exchange and learn strategies, policies and practices from other participating schools around the world who share a commitment to peer-learning, critical reflection and school improvement. An online PISA for Schools Community with inbuilt multilingual tools, facilitates international practitioner-led discussions about teaching practices, in which the PISA scale and frameworks serve as a common frame of reference to foster mutual understanding.

As we celebrate the 10th anniversary of PISA for Schools this year, we are planning to meet many schools in our global community to celebrate, learn from their insights and experiences and generate new ideas on how we can continue to innovate together. Our shared goal remains the same today as it has been from the start: to ensure every student can develop the skills, values and attitudes needed to flourish in an age of uncertainty, change and opportunity.

Looking back at that meeting with school leaders in America a decade ago, I am pleased to see that just as PISA continues to strive to bring high-quality comparative data to ministries around the world, so too PISA for Schools is bringing school level data to school leaders and teachers while encouraging them to put that data into action. I am looking forward to seeing how we can continue to innovate and support schools worldwide for many years to come.

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