New Global Testing Standards Will Force Countries to Revisit Academic Rankings

By Volante, Louis; Professor et al. | The Canadian Press, April 17, 2019 | Go to article overview

New Global Testing Standards Will Force Countries to Revisit Academic Rankings


Volante, Louis, Professor, University, Brock, Jerrim, John, Lecturer, Ritzen, Ucl; Jo, Professor of International Economics of, Technology, Science and, University, Maastricht, Schnepf, and Sylke, researcher, Senior, Eu, The Canadian Press


New global testing standards will force countries to revisit academic rankings

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This article was originally published on The Conversation, an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.

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Authors: Louis Volante, Professor, Brock University; John Jerrim, Lecturer in Economics and Social Statistics, UCL; Jo Ritzen, Professor of International Economics of Education, Science and Technology, Maastricht University, and Sylke Schnepf, Senior researcher, European Commission's Joint Research Centre

Since 2000 when the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) launched a global academic benchmark for measuring student outcomes by testing 15-year-olds, many global education systems have been impacted by what sometimes looks and feels like a race to rank high.

When the OECD launched the Programme for International Student Assessment -- PISA -- the idea was to enable countries to make cross-national comparisons of student achievement using a common/standard metric to increase human capital. In other words, higher academic achievement should corelate with earning in the future and a country's standard of living. As PISA states, it publishes the results of the test a year after the students are tested to help governments shape their education policies.

As PISA has developed, through seven global testing rounds every three years, with the first in 2000 and the most recent in 2018, for some it has gained a reputation as the "Olympics of education" given the widespread attention that country rankings receive following the release of results.

Recent cross-cultural research suggests the influence of PISA is growing around the world. Indeed, in countries such as Germany and Canada assessment systems have been developed that mirror the PISA test. Further, governments look to PISA results twinned with other social outcome measures such as equity in education and social mobility or immigrant success.

Now, partly in the face of criticisms, PISA is looking at expanding how and what it tests. Collectively, changes to PISA will likely spur a shift in priorities by national governments -- particularly since countries are keen to achieve good outcomes and to rank high.

As this process unfolds, policy-makers must remember that the social consequences of a test are just as important as the test's content. Putting a new face on PISA will undoubtedly present various opportunities and challenges.

What PISA now tests

To date, PISA has been restricted to what is generally called the "cognitive" side of learning, focusing on reading, mathematics and scientific literacy. In addition to test questions, students and school principals fill out questionnaires to provide contextual information on student and school environment characteristics that can be associated with more or less favourable performance.

Countries that excel in PISA tests, such as Finland, a country with less than six million people, have become regarded by policy-makers as a "global reference society" -- an ideal to aspire to -- due to their high performance in PISA rankings.

Asian countries or jurisdictions like Singapore, Hong Kong (China) and Japan tend to consistently achieve exceptional PISA performances and hence get a lot of attention from other countries wishing to emulate their success via borrowing policy.

For example, England flew teachers out to China to study mathematics teaching.

Yet even as countries strive to keep pace with preparing students for PISA, criticism -- which largely follows any large-scale test that has important implications -- has emerged. …

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