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Here are two useful reviews of the PISA data released today

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We’ve seen a move in recent months to pre-reject the latest results (and hereof the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).  However, I have found PISA and the analysis based on it to be honest, rigorous and thoughtful, providing valuable insight into (not dictates about) education policy.  

For instance, here is “Lessons from PISA for the United States,” by the OECD.  There’s no rhetoric or spin.  It’s just trying to help figure it all out.  Then there’s Marc Tucker’s book, “Surpassing Shanghai” – detailed, a little wonky but very readable and a valuable contribution to the education policy discussion.  Based entirely on PISA data.

And, finally, there is Amanda Ripley’s new book, “The Smartest Kids in the World.”  I’ll be writing much more about this but, in the meantime, if you read one book about education, read this one.  It flows like a novel, tells real stories of real kids and their schools and provides honest, smart insights about what’s really going on.  And her research touchstone is PISA and Andreas Schleicher, the creator and head of the PISA program.

So there it is.  I don’t buy the anti-PISA meme.  And in that spirit, here are two first takes on the results.  The first, from Andrew Rotherham at EduWonk, suggests we take a deep breath and look at the results with some perspective

PISA! 5 Reasons It Matters And Doesn’t

The new PISA results are out.  Usual suspects saying the usual things.   Few things to keep in mind.

– Bottom line: The sky is not falling, but the ceiling may be closing in on us some.  But we don’t need international comparisons to tell us we have serious educational problems here.

– These results matter, but not as much or as little as various combatants would have you believe.  The best thing to look at is the patterns because as a rule any precision will be false precision given the limitations of the assessments.  And the pattern seems to be that we’re holding steady but other countries are getting their educational acts together.  Over time that’s a problem for the United States in a globalized economy. We’re making a big bet that our political, immigration, and economic system can overcome the drag of a subpar education system. That worked in the 20th Century but may not be a smart bet in this one.

….more here.

 The second is from education’s paper of record, Education Week.  It’s a full scale initial review – sensible and balanced:

U.S. performance in reading, math, and science has remained stagnant since 2009 as other nations have plowed ahead,according to new results from a prominent international assessment.

Nineteen countries and education systems scored higher than the United States in reading on the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, up from nine systems when the test was last administered in 2009. Germany and Poland, for instance, have seen steady gains on the reading assessment over time, and are now ahead of the United States.

In mathematics, 29 nations and other jurisdictions outperformed the United States by a statistically significant margin, up from 23 three years ago, the results released Tuesday show. The nations that eclipsed the U.S. average included not only traditional high fliers like South Korea and Singapore, but also Austria, the United Kingdom, and Vietnam.

In science, 22 education systems scored above the U.S. average, up from 18 in 2009.

“While we’re standing still, other countries are making progress,” said Jack Buckley, the commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which issued the U.S. report on PISA.


see the rest at: Education Week: U.S. Achievement Stalls as Other Nations Make Gains.


  1. wgersen says:

    Here’s Rothstein and Canroy’s take on international tests:
    Their message: the first reports are often superficial and glib… the real findings get lost months later when researchers have a chance to look more deeply into the data.
    And here’s Diane Ravitch’s:
    Her message: we’ve done poorly on these tests from day one and we’re still the strongest country in the world… 30 years AFTER we were a Nation at Risk

    • Bill Duncan says:

      I’ve seen all this commentary, Wayne, and don’t see either of the comments I referred to as superficial or glib. Let me know if you disagree.

      As to Diane Ravitch’s comment about the strongest country: if the point of that observation is that we have nothing to learn about education policy from other smaller economic powers, I guess I can’t agree.

      • wgersen says:

        No your links weren’t at all superficial or glib! I’m a huge admirer of Marc Tucker’s efforts: his “America’s Choice” monograph in the early 1990s was very prescient and his advocacy for mastery learning is on target. But I thought both Rothstein and Canroy and Diane Ravitch made points that were overlooked by other reporters.

  2. Philips says:

    As you read Ms Ripley’s book, check out
    The blogger, Bob Somersby, points out the many small errors in her book that reduce her book thesis to nothing.

    • Bill Duncan says:

      I do see the sarcasm and the fact that he disagrees with her, but I don’t see the many small errors that reduce her thesis to nothing. What I also see is extensive sarcasm directed at Marc Tucker and Andreas Schleicher (inventor of PISA), who also disagree with Diane Ravitch on some (only some) things. Is that the theme here?

      It’s clear enough what team Bob Somersby plays for. That’s fine. I consider us teammates on things like teacher evaluation, charters and vouchers. But he would benefit from more analysis, less sarcasm. He might reach beyond the choir.

  3. croteaubio says:

    Hello Bill. Do you know which schools in NH administer the PISA test? I can’t seem to find any that do.

    • Bill Duncan says:

      I’ve held onto your comment while I tried to come up w/ the answer but I don’t have it yet. Have some questions out and will get back to you…

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