The challenges of widening participation in PISA

This page in:
Photo: Nafise Motlaq / World Bank

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.

Of course, such international comparisons are never easy and they aren’t perfect. But they show what is possible in education, they help governments to see themselves in comparison to the education opportunities and results delivered by other education systems, and they help governments to build effective policies and partnerships for improving learning outcomes.

But as the number of countries joining PISA kept rising, it became apparent that the design and implementation models for PISA needed to evolve to successfully cater to a larger and more diverse set of countries, including a growing number of middle-income and low-income countries who want to participate in the assessment.
In response to these challenges, the OECD and the World Bank just released a report titled The Experience of Middle-Income Countries Participating in PISA 2000-2015, which provides valuable lessons and insights based on the experiences of more than 40 PISA-participating countries. It establishes a strong rationale and foundation for enhancing PISA to make it more relevant to a wider range of countries. It also provides insights for the World Bank and other development partners on how to better support countries to participate in these exercises and to analyse and use the data in effective ways.
The report shows that while demand for participation in PISA among middle-income countries is increasing, these countries face both financial and technical obstacles to participating, including the need to translate and manage the assessment, and code student responses. The report also shows that the political, regulatory, and cultural environment of these countries can also affect whether, and how easily, the assessment can be conducted.
To maximize the benefits of participating in PISA, the report recommends that the OECD take five actions:

  1. Adjust the PISA test instruments to better measure differences between the highest- and lowest-performing students and, in particular, distinguish performance differences at the lowest levels of proficiency;
  2. Revise the contextual questionnaires so they are more relevant to low-income country contexts and policy issues;
  3. Evaluate the impact of PISA participation on middle-income countries’ capacity to conduct international assessments;
  4. Tackle financial and technical challenges through partnerships with donors and through capacity building; and
  5. Extend outreach to local stakeholders in these countries.
Action is already being taken on these recommendations through the PISA for Development initiative. This project is already working to enhance the PISA instruments and will undertake field trials in seven developing countries during 2016. The final results of PISA for Development, which are expected in 2018, will provide local policy makers with new evidence to diagnose shortcomings in their education systems and inform new policies. In the meantime, the PISA for Development countries will benefit from peer-to-peer exchanges with other members of the PISA global community. The enhanced PISA instruments will be made available to all countries for the 2021 cycle of the assessment.
The OECD remains committed to working with the World Bank and other partners in maintaining and developing PISA as a global yardstick for measuring success in education. This is especially relevant in the context of the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals as PISA provides valuable information about the level and distribution of quality and equity within a country’s education system.

Together, we will continue to contribute our expertise and platforms to encourage international collaboration on education through the PISA surveys, and to assist policymakers and practitioners throughout the world to use them more productively.
For more information:
Towards the development of contextual questionnaires for the PISA for development study
PISA for Development Technical Strand C: Incorporating out-of-school 15-year-olds in the assessment
PISA in Low and Middle Income Countries
PISA for Development 


Andreas Schleicher

Director for Education and Skills, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)

Claudia Costin

Founder, Innovation and Excellence in Education Policies (Think Tank)

Join the Conversation

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly
Remaining characters: 1000