Well, friends, today was PISA day. The day when all media outlets around the world breathlessly pronounce their education system is either “plummeting” down the tables, or, through some miraculous miracle, soaring to new educational heights.
Three years ago I ranted about this nonsensical test, run by the OECD, which tests hundreds of thousands of 15 year olds around the world on reading, maths and science. I’m listening to Garbage on the Spotify at the moment and that is an incredibly apt word.
Despite what the OECD and various governing governments say, PISA does absolutely nothing for teaching and learning around the world. It has been hijacked by the media in order to either hammer the education system of whichever country they are reporting from OR it has been hijacked by those wealthy billionaires who love to take over public education systems to make billions more via a range of government subsidies their charter school model siphoning from the public purse. “I don’t pay tax and I want to take your tax to make more income, which I won’t pay tax on.”
Either way, the OECD spends millions per year allowing countries like China to enter various cities (Hong Kong, Shanghai, & Macau) into the competition because China knows that those wealthy areas are likely to do very, very well. Presumably the authorities there are proactive in preparing the students of those cities for the tests. This happens in many jurisdictions around the world where high-stakes standardised testing rules the waves.
If you want to see the results for yourself you can do what I did and check out the Wikipedia page* on which some nice person has put all the results into nice tables so you can make your own comparisons. If you want gallons more statistical juice, then scroll to the bottom of the page for all the references to previous PISA results. It really can be an exciting evening trawling through tables of data to make a couple of points on an angry blog post.
Comparing the 2000 results to 2015 is like comparing apples with something that is the complete opposite of apples – sausages perhaps… or gardening gloves. In 2002 there were only 32 countries taking part. All the OECD members and 4 “partner” countries. In 2015 72 countries took part. New Zealand came 4th in Maths, 7th in Science and 3rd in Reading. Now we sit 22nd in Maths, 13th in Science, and 12th in Reading.
If you want to compare apples with apples by taking out all of the countries who’ve muscled in on the PISA party the figures are a bit different. in 2015 New Zealand sit 7th in Science, 16th in Maths and 9th in Reading.
To quote our retiring king John Key, at the end of the day, PISA doesn’t test anything important. All it tests is a student’s ability to score a certain number of marks on one exam on one day in 2015.
Exams are rubbish for testing all those important things like collaboration, problem solving, trial and error and innovation – all those important things that all employers are looking for. Don’t take my word for it, The Economist surveyed employers. Here are the results:
Sure Literacy and Numeracy are on the list, but way down the bottom and Science doesn’t even get a mention. All those wonderful key competencies our New Zealand Curriculum published back in 2007 are way up there at the top. And their ain’t no way yous are gonna test for that. **
Remember: millions of dollars are spent on PISA to make governments feel good about themselves, not to improve educational outcomes for our learners, no matter what the politicians or our beloved media owners.
I’ll leave the final quote to Radio New Zealand who disappointed me with their headline this morning. “NZ Scores Drop but Rankings Rise in International Test” it said. Later on in the article, however, the article admitted:
The falls were small – three to five points in scores of 495 to 513 points – and were not regarded as statistically significant.
Why didn’t they lead with the statistically significant stuff? Because that doesn’t make a good headline. Falling education numbers is the headline. We are falling!! Arrrghghghgh!!!! That’s the same kind of fervor Patrick Gower works up every time Winston Peters rises one percentage point in a survey with a margin of error of 3.5%. It’s utter bollocks.
Just like PISA.
* I am aware how lame it is to reference Wikipedia in a blog post about education, but the PISA reports are hundreds of pages long and I want to remain angry rather than being bored to death by tables and tables and tables and tables of data and statistical methodology. Even writing that sentence killed me a little inside.
** That sentence has terrible grammar on purpose. Deals with it.