Tag Archives: PISA

Real Singaporean Lessons: Why do Singaporean Students perform so well in PISA?

In this latest post in the Leading Futures Series, edited by Alma Harris and Michelle Jones, Zongyi Deng and S. Gopinathan shine a spotlight on the success of Singapore’s school system and argue th…

Source: Real Singaporean Lessons: Why do Singaporean Students perform so well in PISA?

Testing and Assessment in Norway

I (Clare) read this article on testing. We have had many posts about assessment on this blog and thought this one might be more “food for thought.”

International Education News

In order to learn about what’s happened with testing and assessment in Norway in recent years, we had a conversation with Sverre Tveit. Tveit is a Ph.D. candidate at the Department of Education at the University of Oslo. He will join the University of Agder in southern Norway as University Lecturer in August. In addition to his comparative research related to assessment policy, Tveit has also worked on education and assessment issues at the municipal level (the equivalent of the district level in the US) and was a board member of the Norwegian School Student Union (which organized protests against the initial implementation of the national tests in 2005). He talked with us about how the national tests seem to have been integrated into the Norwegian education system but also pointed to the ways in which local and national politics reflect continuing debates over issues and tensions of testing, assessment…

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But we already DO this at the Laboratory School: Learning from Leaders

Building on Clive’s post from yesterday I (yiola) want to extend the discussion on inquiry- based pedagogy and its many high-level thinking practices. Question posing, experiential learning, researching, sharing, collaborating, exploring, imagining, experimenting — these are but some of the qualities you will find in inquiry-based classrooms. Problem-based and play-based (some use the terms interchangeably) do too.  And, these are the practices that I see being used daily at the Laboratory School here in downtown Toronto. It is good practice. Students are empowered, responsible, creative thinkers. They are also happy when they learn. It is good to read then that the Finnish system is moving away from the subject oriented traditions of schooling into a more “topic” based or what we call “inquiry time” approach to learning.  It is what we’ve been doing at the laboratory school for a very long time.

Here is an article the speaks to Finland’s transition:


What I find interesting is that the countries out outperform the groundbreaking work of the Nordic country are countries I presume have a very different pedagogy. China — a country whose system is very subject driven, standardized,  and competitive in nature. Yes?

I find it interesting to contrast the 2 systems and to consider what the long-term projections will be for the students who exit out of each system.

I see students from our Laboratory school entering high school as creative, capable, high-level thinking individuals. Data shows that in the long term, the Laboratory school graduates go into creative and high performing fields in the arts, academia, public service and corporate sectors.

The article shares:

Welcome to Siltamaki primary school in Helsinki – a school with 240 seven- to 12-year-olds – which has embraced Finland’s new learning style. Its principal, Anne-Mari Jaatinen, explains the school’s philosophy: “We want the pupils to learn in a safe, happy, relaxed and inspired atmosphere.”

We come across children playing chess in a corridor and a game being played whereby children rush around the corridors collecting information about different parts of Africa. Ms Jaatinen describes what is going on as “joyful learning”. She wants more collaboration and communication between pupils to allow them to develop their creative thinking skills.

This is the work of the Laboratory School and more.  I look forward to hearing more about Finland’s transitions, the upcoming PISA rankings and to sharing in greater detail just how the Laboratory School here in Toronto is very much a leader in Inquiry-based teaching and learning.

An Infographic of Finland’s Education System

Much has been said about the education system in Finland. For the past decade or so Finland’s PISA scores have been at the top in both literacy and mathematics. Many studies have been conducted on their exemplary system. Some of the characteristics which set the education system apart:

  • Student- Teacher Ratio is better than in North America
  • Standardized testing and homework is kept to a minimum
  • Teaching is a highly respected profession

Below is a beautiful infographic outlining Finland’s stance on teaching and learning (Lepi, 2014). Lepi concludes the infographic with, what she believes, is most critical to Finland’s success: “Finland knows good teachers are essential.”



OECD and Pisa tests are damaging education worldwide – academics

Finally some “push-back” to PISA’s growing dominance of education. I (Clare) found this article in the Guardian newspaper very interesting. For full article see: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/may/06/oecd-pisa-tests-damaging-education-academics
In this letter to Dr Andreas Schleicher, director of the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment, academics from around the world express deep concern about the impact of Pisa tests and call for a halt to the next round of testing.
Excerpts from the letter are below:
We are frankly concerned about the negative consequences of the Pisa rankings. These are some of our concerns:
• While standardised testing has been used in many nations for decades (despite serious reservations about its validity and reliability), Pisa has contributed to an escalation in such testing and a dramatically increased reliance on quantitative measures. For example, in the US, Pisa has been invoked as a major justification for the recent “Race to the Top” programme, which has increased the use of standardised testing for student-, teacher-, and administrator evaluations, which rank and label students, as well as teachers and administrators according to the results of tests widely known to be imperfect (see, for example, Finland’s unexplained decline from the top of the Pisa table).
• In education policy, Pisa, with its three-year assessment cycle, has caused a shift of attention to short-term fixes designed to help a country quickly climb the rankings, despite research showing that enduring changes in education practice take decades, not a few years, to come to fruition. For example, we know that the status of teachers and the prestige of teaching as a profession have a strong influence on the quality of instruction, but that status varies strongly across cultures and is not easily influenced by short-term policy.
• By emphasising a narrow range of measurable aspects of education, Pisa takes attention away from the less measurable or immeasurable educational objectives like physical, moral, civic and artistic development, thereby dangerously narrowing our collective imagination regarding what education is and ought to be about.
• As an organisation of economic development, OECD is naturally biased in favour of the economic role of public [state] schools. But preparing young men and women for gainful employment is not the only, and not even the main goal of public education, which has to prepare students for participation in democratic self-government, moral action and a life of personal development, growth and wellbeing.
• Unlike United Nations (UN) organisations such as UNESCO or UNICEF that have clear and legitimate mandates to improve education and the lives of children around the world, OECD has no such mandate. Nor are there, at present, mechanisms of effective democratic participation in its education decision-making process.
• To carry out Pisa and a host of follow-up services, OECD has embraced “public-private partnerships” and entered into alliances with multi-national for-profit companies, which stand to gain financially from any deficits—real or perceived—unearthed by Pisa. Some of these companies provide educational services to American schools and school districts on a massive, for-profit basis, while also pursuing plans to develop for-profit elementary education in Africa, where OECD is now planning to introduce the Pisa programme.
• Finally, and most importantly: the new Pisa regime, with its continuous cycle of global testing, harms our children and impoverishes our classrooms, as it inevitably involves more and longer batteries of multiple-choice testing, more scripted “vendor”-made lessons, and less autonomy for teachers. In this way Pisa has further increased the already high stress level in schools, which endangers the wellbeing of students and teachers.

Dilemma for Educators: Focus on Pisa Scores or Improve Quality of Education

Colombian FlagClive and I (Clare) are going to Bogota and Cartagena to present at two conferences: one for teacher educators and one for teacChildren in Colombiahers. (More about our experience to follow.) In our correspondence with our Colombian hosts, who have been incredibly gracious, we get the impression they are very focused on improving Pisa scores. From our reading about Colombia we recognize there is grinding poverty yet they have made huge strides in improving literacy rates. We appreciate the dilemma faced by the Colombians –improve test scores on international measures yet education is under resourced. Being inspired by Pasi Sahlberg (and in keeping with the findings from our research as described in our new book Growing as a Teacher), the focus should not be unilaterally on improving Pisa scores but should be broader — provide quality education. Good teaching will improve literacy achievement and which in turn improve scores on Pisa. As Sahlberg’s data shows, the countries focused on controlling the curriculum and on teaching to the test have declining achievement on Pisa. (See April 19th blog post on this topic.) Drills and mindless worksheets will not engaged those children who do not see themselves as readers. So our message will be – let’s support teachers so they know how to provide relevant, engaging, and appropriate curriculum. The scores on Pisa will take care of themselves. We would love to hear from others who have worked in Colombia.

Analysis of PISA’s Growing Domination of Education

 In this blog we have had a number of posts discussing PISA. TC Record has a superb commentary by Heinz-Dieter Meyer on PISA. Here are a number of quotes from his article, OECD’s PISA: A Tale of Flaws and Hubris.

  •  A majority of large, complex, ethnically or culturally heterogeneous education systems are held up to a deceptive comparison with a group of small city- and nation stations that are culturally homogeneous, and often politically authoritarian. Large and unwieldy systems like the United States (scoring 481), UK (494), France (495), Italy (485), Spain (484), are compared to spic-and-span city states like Singapore (scoring 573), whose government enjoys such arbitrary powers as the imposition of jail sentences on people who spit or chew gum in public.
  • Thus we know that 88% of South Korean elementary school students and 61% of students in high schools receive private tutoring in cram schools. Private tutoring in South Korea represents 2.3% of GDP, equal to half the public education expenditures. In fact, while PISA holds Korea, Japan and Shanghai up to the rest of the world, many Koreans, Chinese, or Japanese take a much dimmer view of their schools, with their need for heavy out-of-school tutoring and the associated problems of depression, suicide, and a pervasive stifling of students’ academic self-motivation (Heyneman, 2013).
  • On my visits to schools in China I have seen a mentality of collective docility much closer to my experience in Germany than in the US. With obedient students, teachers don’t need to spend time on discipline or “classroom management.” And while much of what we observe in the Eastern educational tradition is admittedly intriguing and enviable—deep respect for learning, reverence for the role of the teacher, and filial piety—these features often come on the back of less enviable characteristics like unquestioned obedience to authority, limits on free speech, and acceptance of paternalistic government we would be unwilling and unable to emulat
  • “PISA has become accepted as a reliable instrument for benchmarking student performance worldwide” is the conclusion of a recent OECD study on PISA’s global effect (Breakspear, 2010, p. 4). This goes beyond the well-publicized cases of “PISA shock” that led countries like Germany and Japan to better align their curricula with PISA requirements. The OECD study found that almost all 60+ governments used PISA to change their assessment and curriculum in order to “include PISA-like competencies.” As the US representative on the PISA-Board put it: “PISA has been assessed, along with other frameworks, in the formation of the new Common Core Standards” (p. 24), which now includes a strong emphasis on “reading competence” in decoding technical manuals and newspaper articles at the expense of understanding and interpreting works of literary merit.
  • There is little question that through PISA the OECD is reshaping the curriculum of public schools and the norms by which we judge them. The question is: should they?
  • ·      To date, the education research community has taken PISA and OECD’s legitimacy largely at face value, duly dissecting the data it provided and debating policy options. It may be time to question OECD’s involvement in public education more fundamentally.

 Check out the full article at: http://www.tcrecord.org/content.asp?contentid=17371


Anita, Math Teaching, and the System

I had coffee today with Anita, one of the year 10 teachers in our longitudinal study. She was in my School & Society course (foundations course) in initial teacher education and I have observed and interviewed her each year since. She is a very strong teacher in every way, but has just moved to a new school and is facing some challenges. She said about 40% of her grade 4/5 class have very low SES backgrounds and the government is reducing special education support, ostensibly to promote inclusion but actually to save money. One thing she talked about relates to how difficult it is to teach math skills and concepts without concerted system direction and teacher training (as noted in my previous posting about the PISA results). She said it will probably take most of the year to teach her class how to do a 3-part math lesson (direct instruction/group work/whole-class discussion), whereas if the whole school was doing it and all the teachers had been trained in it she could have used this approach immediately. We also talked about how the principal needs to provide leadership in getting all the teachers pulling together around such pedagogy, but principals aren’t being trained in this role or receiving a consistent message that it’s a major part of their job. Anita, then, has to fine-tune and prioritize her teaching activities largely on her own (there are effectively 2 PD days a year), hoping to survive and thrive as a teacher and be there for her students. Clive

More Commentary on PISA

We thought you might find these excerpts from two scholarly papers on PISA interesting. Clare

Professor Gemma Moss and colleagues, London Institute of Education

Some features of [high PISA performing] education systems are not suitable for borrowing; for instance, pupils in Korea and Japan also spend substantially more time being privately tutored outside of school hours. This would not be acceptable to parents in the UK. Education systems are deeply linked to local political as well as educational cultures. No one would want to import an authoritarian one-party system of government from China, yet that may be a key ingredient in how their education system runs. [Further] it is not clear whether or how performance in PISA relates to the economy. China’s economic growth has not been driven by uniform access to high quality education; rather high quality education in Shanghai has followed economic growth. Britain remains amongst the top-performing economies, out-performing our PISA rankings in education.

(Excerpt from a brief for UK politicians)

Professor Paul Morris, London Institute of Education (formerly Dean of Education, Hong Kong University, and President, Hong Kong Institute of Education)

[In Hong Kong] reforms have been both developed and implemented over long time periods [and] the direction of reform has been developed through fairly nonpartisan discussions with a wide range of stakeholders, including school principals, local and overseas academics, and draws upon a range of sources of evidence…. [Further] in Hong Kong the good Math’s results in PISA 2012 have been attributed by their Government to teachers using ‘project work and exploratory activities’ and the good science results to the promotion of ‘scientific literacy and generic skills (e.g. critical thinking and problem-solving skills)’. Not exactly an endorsement of [UK Education Secretary] Gove’s direction of travel!

(Excerpt from: PISA 2012: What can we learn from East Asia?)

Feedback on blog about PISA results

Our blog post on the PISA scores generated a lot of feedback. Here are some of the comments we have received:

  • We can add the lack of time for collaborative planning in schools and the lack of professional development opportunities that are job-embedded are factors that must be considered.
  • Is it just my idea or is PISA  becoming a ruler for our educational systems? Even telling the way we need to teach? PISA results make even Finnish feel nervous because they dropped some points 🙂
  • I have not read anything by anyone else that remotely comes close to what Clive has said. I will share this with my teacher candidates.
  • The gap between the rich and poor in my country is great. This affects education in all ways.
  • When people use words like “failure”, “crisis’, and “floundering” they are being silly.
  • Clive’s piece has motivated me to write an op-ed for our newspaper.
  • The news about PISA scores have been a new in Peru too… beyond our low position in the ranking compared with the other countries, one salient topic is the huge inequality gaps.