'Fallacies Should Be Avoided When Looking at Pisa Results' Education Expert Professor David Egan on Wales' Difficulties in the International Pisa Rankings. EPE

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), November 26, 2016 | Go to article overview

'Fallacies Should Be Avoided When Looking at Pisa Results' Education Expert Professor David Egan on Wales' Difficulties in the International Pisa Rankings. EPE


Byline: David Egan

ON December 6 the outcomes of the Pisa tests of 2015 will be published, dominating, no doubt, education debate in Wales for some considerable time thereafter.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) is administered every three years by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 71 countries across the globe.

A sample of 15-year-olds in these countries sit standardised tests in science (the lead subject on this occasion), reading and mathematics. The tests are designed to assess the knowledge and practical, problemsolving skills of these young people. The Pisa tests started in 2000 and Wales first participated in 2006.

The results for Wales published in 2007, 2010 and 2013 were disappointing, showing us to be the weakest participator of the UK nations and a relatively modest performer in international terms.

The 2009 outcomes caused a veritable educational earthquake in Wales leading to a major change in the direction of education policy which included the re-introduction of national testing, increased accountability placed upon schools, a new framework for the teaching of literacy and numeracy and, in effect, the introduction of league tables through what is now known as the "school categorisation system".

Understandably, therefore, there is considerable interest, not to say some trepidation, as to what the 2016 outcomes will reveal.

The inevitable question to be asked is, good, bad or indifferent, should we be ready to place the importance on our Pisa performance that we have done in the past and in shaping future education policy in Wales? As a form of standardised testing, Pisa is not without its critics.

They have reservations about the technical aspects of the exercise, including the size of the sample and the nature of the questions and the extent to which it allows itself to be open to countries who want to "teach to the test" and "game" the exercise in other ways.

Pisa like all other forms of standardised testing is not perfect. The fact is, however, that in its own terms it is probably about as valid and reliable a form of standardised testing as you are likely to get. To that extent, we should treat Pisa with respect and take seriously what it tells us about our education system.

That said, there is an increasing consensus among educational researchers and commentators, that extreme caution should be exercised in using the outcomes of Pisa in the way that has become commonplace amongst governments and politicians in recent years, including our own in Wales.

Three fallacies should be avoided. Firstly, it appears increasingly risible to maintain that a single standardised test taken every three years can tell us everything we need to know about the quality of an education system. Many countries - including those who have done well in Pisa in the past - now seek far more rounded evidence on how their education systems are performing.

They have come to value highly the importance of creativity and entrepreneurialism, and to be wary of a narrow focus on literacy and numeracy and the testing of these basic skills. They recognise that student wellbeing is as important as academic success and that a close relationship exists between the two.

The second major problem with Pisa is the way in which it has become used as an international league table to compare very different education systems.

This is when Pisa risks the danger of becoming completely invalid and unreliable. …

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