Schools can measure themselves against Pisa tests
- 2 April 2013
- From the section Education & Family
Individual schools are going to be able to take international tests for the first time to see how they compare with the world's best school systems.
The OECD, which runs the influential Pisa tests, is to allow secondary schools to use the global tests.
This will initially be available in the United States, but the OECD wants to extend it to schools in the UK.
The OECD's Andreas Schleicher says it will help schools to know "where they stand" against global benchmarks.
The OECD Test for Schools, to be launched on Wednesday in Washington DC, will allow schools or local authorities to assess themselves against the standards of Pisa tests - the Programme for International Student Assessment.
Schools will be able to see how their pupils compare with the highest performing school systems, such as Finland, Shanghai and Hong Kong.
The Pisa-style tests will be externally marked, to ensure robustness and comparability, and will be available for schools in the US to begin testing from September.
The results will not be published, unless schools want to publish their own, so that schools can check their pupils' performance without being ranked against other schools.
Mr Schleicher says he wants to make this "assessment tool" available to schools in the UK, depending on funding. The OECD has also been in discussions about running the tests in Spain.
The Pisa tests, which measure the performance of 15-year-olds in maths, reading and science, have become a highly influential way of comparing international education standards.
Launched in 1997, the tests are taken every three years by a sample of schools in over 70 countries and regional authorities and are used to create a global ranking of school performance.
The most recent results, from tests taken in 2009, have recorded the rise of Asian school systems in countries such as Singapore, South Korea and in parts of China.
And another set of results, based on tests in 2012, are set to be published later this year.
But they do not provide a more detailed picture of differences in achievement within countries.
In England, London secondary schools are seen as higher performing than many other parts of the country. And in a country such as the United States, a national average can conceal very wide variations.
With this new system, schools will be able to see how they might perform when benchmarked against a global scale. Will they be the equivalent of a Scandinavian country in the upper end of the scale?
There has been a pilot scheme for this project, involving schools in 22 US states, and also a small number of schools in the UK and Canada.
As well as academic tests, there will be questions on how much pupils enjoy their schools and their classroom environment, with the aim of producing a more rounded picture of the quality of education.
The tests will take about three and a half hours.
"The idea for this came from schools and school districts in the United States," said Mr Schleicher.
"Most of them knew where the United States as a whole stands in Pisa but they were keen to understand where they stand, compared with the most advanced education systems internationally, and what they can learn from high performing and rapidly improving education systems.
"One of the next projects I have in mind is establishing an international network of schools that have done this test and can share experience.
"Education still remains an amazingly local and inward-looking business.
"While those who run education systems may have access to some evidence on school performance, those who deliver educational services at the frontline in school often do not."
The Pisa tests have become a key part of an increasingly global perspective on education standards.
It has made countries consider the abilities of their pupils against international competitors.
There have been voices sceptical about the value of Pisa test comparisons and how they are used.
At this weekend's National Union of Teachers conference, the union's president Beth Davies, told teachers: "I don't know about you but I am thoroughly sick of hearing about Pisa."
She said that comparing test results with countries such as Finland failed to recognise the underlying differences in their education systems.
Pisa results are used to "drive forward a false agenda of school and local authority reform," she told delegates at the union's conference in Liverpool.