A lot can be said about PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) 2015, the triennial test and survey completed by a sample of 15 year olds in OECD and other nations. Databases and interactive data visualisations are available on the PISA website. Potentially, anyone with skills in data analysis can use these data sources to explore their own questions about the data, and research will no doubt be forthcoming. In the meantime, the first slice of PISA looks at news reports of the PISA results.
Results of the 2015 PISA test were published on 6th December 2016. UK based news sources have been keen to report on the performance of the UK, and its constituent countries, in comparison with the other nations taking part in PISA 2015. BBC News ran with the headline: PISA Tests: Singapore top in global education rankings reporting that, in comparison, the “UK remains a middle-ranking performer”. The Telegraph asks: Where does the UK rank in the international school league tables? While it reports that the UK has climbed up the ranks for science and reading, it cautions that the average point score had dropped in both subjects, though only by one point in reading. As the Telegraph report goes on to say: “only 11 per cent of students in the UK are top performers” in comparison with Singapore where 35% of pupils are ‘top performers’. Similarly, The Guardian focuses on the apparent lack of success of UK schools with the headline: UK schools fail to climb international league table. The Independent too warns that UK schools are falling behind leading countries. These reports suggest that there is little to celebrate in the latest PISA results. The position of the UK in the PISA rankings signifies, according to news reports, that we are falling behind.
However, where average, or mean scores form the basis for comparison we should not be surprised to see some variation in the results between schools as highlighted by the case of Alexandra Park School in North London. As BBC News reported, the average score of the pupils in this school surpasses the average score of pupils in Singapore, the top performing country taking part in PISA. So, while the UK is ‘middle ranking’, some UK schools are not. Some score higher, some score lower. Perhaps in an effort to highlight which country is to blame for bringing down the UK average, the differential performance of constituent parts of the UK has also received attention. The PISA scores for Wales are lower than other UK countries, and falls below the OECD average. The BBC reports that Wales is “still worst in UK in world education tests” as the performance of Wales’ pupils has failed to improve on previous PISA tests. Wales Online reminds us that politicians may be judged by and held accountable for the educational performance of a country’s pupils, reporting that First Minister, Carwyn Jones has been described as a ‘failure’, partly as a result of the country’s performance in PISA 2015.
These reports, in highlighting the apparent mediocre position of the UK in global league tables suggests that the comparative performance of the UK should be a concern for both educators and policy makers. Grek (2009) discusses a politics of comparison where the PISA ranks provoke policy responses in an attempt to increase a nation’s position in future tests. Future slices on this blog will pick up on these and other issues related to PISA.
Grek, S (2009) ‘Governing by Numbers’, Journal of Education Policy, 24 (1): 23-37