Education International
Education International

Missing link: OECD’s PISA report ignores teacher voice

published 7 December 2010 updated 7 December 2010

OECD’s influential Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report, which gathers information on education systems, schools, families and students through surveys of school leaders, students and parents is launched, but where – asks EI – is the voice of teachers?

Despite the triennial report claiming‘good educational policy is informed educational policy in which all responsible actors (policy makers, school principals, teachers, students and parents), are provided with the knowledge that they need to make good educational decisions,’ EI cannot understand why the perspective of teachers, who are the first actors to be called upon to implement education policy in schools, continues to be ignored.

EI has long argued that a questionnaire to survey the views of teachers in those schools that are sampled for the study will generate data that can augment the views of students and parents, and provide a robust understanding of the learning context in which findings can be interpreted.

EI General Secretary, Fred van Leeuwen, said: “Critical analysis of how prepared students are to meet the challenges of tomorrow; how well they can analyse and communicate their ideas, and how equipped they are to pursue lifelong learning, among other indicators, necessarily requires that all stakeholders are able to contribute to the evidence base. The continuing exclusion of teacher voice from this report is a missed opportunity and undermines PISA’s aim of offering informed policy guidance to governments, or using the results to show what countries can learn from each other to set and achieve measurable goals.”

The latest edition, PISA 2009, the fourth since 2000, is a collection of five reports covering 65 countries – including the 33 OECD member states – which comprise almost 90 per cent of the world’s economy, to assess how 15-year-old students are performing in reading, mathematics and science.

This year’s PISA report is the first ‘after-crisis’ review, and was therefore intended to offer an early assessment of the impact of the global financial crisis on education systems. EI notes however that the impact of the crisis was greater in many countries in 2010, after PISA, and is expected to continue in 2011 as governments cut public budgets to reduce debt. The report’s focus on reading with an assessment framework that includes printed texts as well as electronic texts, also measures mathematical and scientific competencies, and presents questions used to gather information from schools, students and parents on students’ home backgrounds and learning environments.

PISA 2009’s focus on trend analysis over the past decade states that some countries’ results have improved; others have regressed, while some have remained the same. Overall, PISA 2009 shows minor developments because most participating countries achieve similar results to the past. Just as in the last report, PISA 2006, variation among the core group of 35 countries is smaller than that between students across all levels in each country separately. It is the difference between students and schools that makes overall achievements inequitable, not differences between education systems. Some countries are out of average range, although there is an observable correlation between levels of socio-economic development and aggregate performance. In general, richer countries with more funding in education demonstrate better results than poorer ones.

In PISA 2009, OECD argues that the biggest improvements of “country performance” (rise in ranking) are achieved by narrowing proportions of students in the lowest levels, rather than increasing top levels. EI believes this conclusion argues for greater equity in education, and for boosting resources for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. There is a danger, however, when governments push competition between schools, of perverse effects such as the exclusion of lower performing students and those with learning difficulties. Over emphasis on narrow indicators of performance could lead to teachers coming under pressure to neglect other important aspects of education.

PISA asserts that its results will support governments in helping students to ‘deal with rapid change, to find jobs that have not yet been created, to use technologies that have not yet been invented, to solve problems which have not yet arisen.’ Such claims may be going too far. Only one country, Canada, has so far completed a longitudinal study, tracking students over a number of years. For most countries, PISA remains a snapshot sample of different 15 year-olds in each cycle. PISA reports the performance of different students in different countries (each edition of the report also brings in new countries) at different times, in different social, political and economic circumstances.

Since the 2009 data collection process overlapped with the deepest economic crisis and recession in many OECD or partner countries, it is reasonable to ask how much the broader context matters, especially as the PISA analysis could not take this context into account.

EI argues that education cannot be seen in isolation from the changing situation in countries, and the ‘progress’ or ‘regression’ of countries needs to be contextualised in the socio-economic climate affecting families, education systems and nations. EI also believes that while PISA data shows correlations between performance and different variables, it is simplistic to infer causal relationships. Critical factors affecting education in the broader sense remain beyond the scope and scale of the study