PISA results: The current hot topic in education

Top scorers on the 2012 PISA.
Top scorers on the 2012 PISA.

The Washington Post, TIME, Education Week. All were among the periodicals featuring headlines about the 2012 PISA results which were released last week. Most point out the unfortunate fact that the average score for students in the U.S. remained (essentially) unchanged, while the scores of other nations improved, resulting in a lower U.S. overall ranking when compared with other nations. In particular, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Latvia, Poland, Vietnam, Austria and Luxembourg all overtook the U.S. average by statistically significant margins in the math standings for 2012. So what exactly does this mean?

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

Many responses to the results can be placed into one of two categories: (1) educators in the U.S. should be alarmed and take immediate action (though what action should be taken remains vague); and (2) educators should focus on lessons which can be learned from nations with higher average scores. A third theme pointed out the inequity in which scores can be reported, criticizing China in particular for reporting only those scores of students in Hong Kong and Shanghai (see Time magazine’s article for more information at http://world.time.com/2013/12/04/china-is-cheating-the-world-student-rankings-system/?hpt=hp_c3 ).

To help readers sort through myriad information about the results, here are some useful links.

A particularly useful visual for identifying countries rankings in each of the three subjects, along with correlations between PISA scores, income and spending, was released by the UK’s "The Guardian," and can be viewed at http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2013/dec/03/pisa-results-country-best-reading-maths-science.

For sample test items (cleverly titled, "Are you smarter than a 15-year-old") visit http://microsite.smithsonianmag.com/content/Finland-School-Quiz/?utm_source=twitter.com&utm_medium=socialmedia&utm_campaign=12032013&utm_content=interactivefinaland

One group of educators gathering in Washington, D.C., to discuss the future of high school education drafted a response focusing on the changes that need to occur to strengthen mathematics education in the U.S. Their thoughtful essay can be viewed at http://mathforum.org/kb/servlet/JiveServlet/download/206-2610178-9339467-1068469/att1.html .

An informative video that points out the disparities between scores of differing socio-economic groups (thereby pointing out the U.S. scores are not as low as they seem) and that emphasizes positive steps to increase U.S. performance was produced by the American Federation of Teachers and can be found on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hf9UVg-TdH0 .

In interesting commentary on the PISA debates, Arthur H. Camins cautions us not to respond (as did Chicken Little) as though the "Educational Sky is Falling." His insights can be found in a Huffington Post article at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arthur-camins/pisa-results-a-chicken-li_ b_4404925.html .

Readers can always go right to the source for information; results are released through the National Center for Educational Statistics, will full reports available at http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2014024 .

Of course anyone wishing to sort through the 1,270,000 articles on the subject, can simply do a Google search.