by Paolo Martin
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development recently released the results of its Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). As the name implies, PISA is an internationally standardized assessment developed by 43 participating countries - first administered in 2000, then in 2003, and again recently in 2006. According to OECD's website, "PISA assesses how far students near the end of compulsory education have acquired some of the knowledge and skills that are essential for full participation in society. In all cycles, the domains of reading, mathematical and scientific literacy are covered not merely in terms of mastery of the school curriculum, but in terms of important knowledge and skills needed in adult life." The results of the 2006 assessment showed some interesting points. Here's a short list of the highlights:
- Since 2000 some countries (not the U.S.) have made significant gains.
- The top finishers were: Mathematics - Taipei, Reading - Korea, and Science - Finland.
- U.S. scores did not change much since 2000, but scores were below OECD averages in mathematics.
- Secondary students are showing less interest in becoming scientists and growing pessimism about the environment.
Because the U.S. scores relative to other countries were not flattering, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings made a statement acknowledging the disappointing figures, defending the President's advocacy for more resources and "stronger math and science education." She says, "In fact, students are being assessed in science under No Child Left Behind this year."
I don't know about you, but my reaction to the PISA results was, first, "Hmmm....that's interesting - yay, for Finland and Korea." Next, given the cultural differences among Finland, Korea, and the U.S., I wondered what it was about the two top-achieving countries that might have helped their students do well on PISA and what the U.S. can or can't learn from them. Granted, I don't believe assessments are the be all and end all in terms of judging how "educated" our kids are, but I think that the results of PISA could be a starting point for dialoguing and sharing good educational practices among different countries. I think that that's more productive than using the U.S. low PISA score as evidence of why we need more testing on the high school level - one of the points in Margaret Spellings' statement (see above). However folks in the U.S. choose to react to the recent PISA results, my hope is that we don't scorn the countries that scored better than the U.S. nor jump to conclusions and assume that the grass is simply greener on the other side.
Tags: PISA, assessment, organization for economic co-operation and development