How do large-scale student assessments, like PISA, actually work? What are the key ingredients that are necessary to produce a reliable, policy relevant assessment of what children and young people know and can do with what they know? A new report commissioned by the OECD and the World Bank offers a behind-the-scenes look at how some of the largest of these assessments are developed and implemented, particularly in developing countries.
Since 2000, the OECD’s Programme for International Assessment (PISA) has been measuring the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students in over 70 countries. PISA does not just examine whether students have learned what they were taught, but also assesses whether students can creatively and critically use what they know.
Last week, I traveled to New York City to attend the first International Summit on the Teaching Profession hosted by the US Department of Education, the OECD, and Education International, a global teachers union. Of the 16 countries represented, all were top-performers in the international PISA tests, or rapid improvers, such as Poland and Brazil. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called the meeting to learn from what other countries are doing to improve teaching and learning, a sign that not only is this task complex and challenging, but that it is critical to countries at all levels of development.
So how do these top-performers and rapid-improvers manage their teaching forces to achieve high learning outcomes? The goal of the Summit was to have frank and open discussions about what works. Each country’s delegation included both government and teacher representatives, thus recognizing from the start the need for collaboration in the design and implementation of teacher policy reforms.
In December 2006, I travelled to Santiago, Chile, with a small team to conduct consultations with education stakeholders on a study we were carrying out at the request of the Chilean Government to help them identify lessons from high-performing countries on how to strengthen the institutional arrangements for education quality assurance. I was the Task Team Leader (at the Bank this is the title of the Project Manager) and also heading the trip. I was joined by an external expert consultant, Joseph Olchefske who is a former Superintendent of Seattle Public Schools and was during this period at the American Institutes for Research, and a Junior Professional Associate, Erika Molina. Among the round of meetings we held with all stakeholders ranging from government officials (legislative and executive), business sector leaders, think- tanks (both from the right and left of the political and economic spectrum), student organizations, academic leaders, and opinion leaders, we met with the leaders of the national Teachers Union, the Colegio de Profesores.
The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2009 survey results were released today by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). PISA tests 15 year olds in reading, math and science.
Pisa 2009 results focus on reading, as they did in 2000 when the tests were first applied. In reading, as the OECD reports, Korea and Finland are the highest performing OECD countries, with mean scores of 539 and 536 points. However, as noted in today's New York Times, Shanghai-China outperforms them by a significant margin, with a mean score of 556. Top-performing economies in reading include Hong Kong-China (533), Singapore (526), Canada (524), New Zealand (521), Japan (520), Australia (515) and the Netherlands (508).
At the US release of the PISA results in Washington DC, which I was fortunate to attend today, Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan and OECD Secretary General Angel Gurría, discussed the importance of the results in terms of competitiveness and growth.
The Seoul G20 summit in November ended with some homework for the World Bank. We were asked to work with the ILO, OECD and UNESCO to develop internationally comparable indicators of skills that can help countries in their efforts to better match education and job training to market needs. The G20 was right to make this a priority.
In this post-financial crisis period, jobs play an important role in recovery. Making sure that people have the right skills to get these jobs is the other side. Developing countries, especially, know that skills development is necessary if they are going to attract investment that will create decent jobs and raise productivity.