A Drive for Standards, or a Leaning Tower? Education Systems the World over Benchmark Themselves against a Range of Performance Measures. the International 'Pisa' Survey Is Fast Becoming the Go-To Test of Educational Attainment - but It Comes at a Cost. Here Education Editor Gareth Evans Asks If Pisa Is a Price Worth Paying

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), September 25, 2015 | Go to article overview

A Drive for Standards, or a Leaning Tower? Education Systems the World over Benchmark Themselves against a Range of Performance Measures. the International 'Pisa' Survey Is Fast Becoming the Go-To Test of Educational Attainment - but It Comes at a Cost. Here Education Editor Gareth Evans Asks If Pisa Is a Price Worth Paying


THERE are few things more divisive within the education fraternity than the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa).

Some swear by it - others swear at it. And it's hardly surprising, given the propensity of governments to shape their entire schools policy around Pisa's findings.

Conducted every three years, Pisa tests the knowledge and core skills of 15-year-olds as they near the end of their compulsory education.

It uses a representative sample of students from more than 65 countries to gauge how different education systems are performing against one another.

Former Education Minister Leighton Andrews described Wales' poor Pisa scores published in 2010 as a "wake-up call to a complacent system", and targeted a place in the world's top 20 when tests are taken later this year.

But Welsh teenagers were ranked well below those in the rest of the UK on science, reading and maths in 2013 and the results came as a serious blow to the Welsh Government's aspirations.

A subsequent shifting of the goalposts has seen Mr Andrews' successor, Huw Lewis, set Wales "a new ambition" of achieving scores of 500 for reading, maths and science in the Pisa tests of 2021.

We will find out whether or not the Welsh Government is on course to hit its new target in a little over a year, when the results of tests taken by pupils this November are published worldwide. Whatever happens next December, questions over Pisa's validity will remain and the same debate about Wales' continued participation will doubtless ensue.

But while commentators on either side of the Pisa fence vociferously defend their position, seldom do they consider the cost of participation to associated governments and, by default, taxpayers.

Figures released using the Freedom of Information Act show that the Welsh Government agreed to pay up to PS560,741 to take part in Pisa over the four years from 2010 to 2014.

A further PS295,560 has been shelled out on school taster tests, distributed to Welsh secondaries to prepare teenagers for assessments used to compile international league tables.

A version of the triennial Pisa tests in reading, maths and science - normally confined to countries - were made available to schools for the first time last year, although take-up has been slow.

Throw in the time and energy spent compiling a raft of online Pisa resources and there is every chance Wales will have spent well in excess of PS1m facilitating education's most controversial performance measure. …

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A Drive for Standards, or a Leaning Tower? Education Systems the World over Benchmark Themselves against a Range of Performance Measures. the International 'Pisa' Survey Is Fast Becoming the Go-To Test of Educational Attainment - but It Comes at a Cost. Here Education Editor Gareth Evans Asks If Pisa Is a Price Worth Paying
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