Testing, testing: How Kosovo fared in its first international assessment of students

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Results of PISA 2015 reveal a wide performance gap between Kosovar students and their peers in the region.
Photo: Jutta Benzenberg / World Bank

A few weeks ago, education policy makers and data analysts around the world were glued to their laptops when the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published the results of PISA 2015. More than half a million students – from 72 countries and economies representing 28 million 15 year-olds – had taken the test. PISA, an international assessment administered every three years, measures the skills of students in applying their knowledge of science, reading, and mathematics to real life problems.  PISA is one of the most influential international student assessments, which provides a rich set of information on the systems strengths and weaknesses, supports development of effective policies – and at the same time, benchmarks country's achievements vis a vis other participating countries.

PISA 2015 marked Kosovo’s first ever participation in any international assessment of students. Recognizing that independent feedback on Kosovo education system’s performance is needed to assess and improve the quality of education provided to its children – Kosovo authorities’ decision to expose itself to international standards and comparison is both courageous and commendable. Although aware that PISA results would show a less than satisfactory performance, the authorities took on the task seriously and worked hard to ensure that OECD requirements were met to ensure the test results were credible and reliable. This is another achievement in itself and a sign of increased capacity of the Kosovo institutions. 
Turning on to the PISA results, Kosovo’s performance in PISA 2015 is worrisome.
The country’s overall performance in science, math, and reading significantly lags behind major averages of the OECD, EU, and the Europe and Central Asia (ECA) region. In particular, science - the main focus of PISA 2015 - reveals a wide performance gap between Kosovar students and their peers in the region.
Kosovo’s outcomes in science place its students, on average, 4.5 years of schooling behind OECD and EU averages (roughly 30 points in each PISA subject area is equivalent to one year of schooling).
The picture is slightly better when compared to the ECA average in science: Kosovar students are roughly 2.5 years of schooling behind – although still very discouraging. Reading and math outcomes are equally poor. Kosovar students’ scores are equivalent to 5 years of schooling behind the OECD average in reading, and a little over 4 years behind in math.
What Else Does PISA Tell Us About Kosovo’s Education System?
Usually, a country’s position in the international ranking captures widespread attention and creates a buzz in participating countries. However, beyond the country rankings, PISA also offers an invaluable and rich data source as a foundation for evidence-based policy options to improve student learning.
A glance beyond the average scores provided here gives some basic insights into the issues and challenges that should be explored further. The scores show that more than two-thirds of students perform below a basic level of proficiency in science (68 percent), math (78 percent) and reading (77 percent) – a share that is much higher than in neighboring Montenegro and Albania, and significantly higher than the OECD average (21 percent). For each of the three subjects, “below basic proficiency” is defined as scores below Level 2 – the baseline level of proficiency that all students should be expected to attain when they leave compulsory education. 
PISA results also show that the Kosovo education system is marked by inequity. Students from rural areas are about 1 year of schooling behind their urban peers, and students from low-income households are about 1.5 years of schooling behind their well-off peers, in science scores. While this is the smallest gap in ECA – where the average is almost 3 years of schooling – it is indicative of a system that has failed to reach those who need the most help.
What Happens Next?
A detailed and in-depth analysis of the PISA data should be the first priority of the Kosovo Ministry of Education, Science and Technology – as well as other education stakeholders. A lot of lessons are likely to emerge once the relationships between student performance and various background factors are explored further. This is a first and necessary step in engaging and mobilizing all relevant stakeholders – whether from government, academia, civil society, or parents– in an informed and meaningful discussion on the potential reforms and actions aimed at improving education outcomes in Kosovo. 
PISA results show that the majority of Kosovo’s 15-year-olds are not equipped with the basic skills needed for productive employment and participation in life. This trend has implications for their later outcomes in life – and for the country’s economic growth and competitiveness. The time for action is now!

You can learn more about the PISA 2015 results, including the performance of several World Bank client countries, by going to the PISA website.
Check out country briefs from the World Bank about the PISA 2015 results.
Find out more about World Bank Group education on Twitter and Flipboard.



Flora Kelmendi

Senior Operations Officer

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