The PISA results

Most of what I want to write has already been put into print. A usual, Diane Ravitch has done a masterful job of dissecting what they mean or do not mean.

Let me just emphasize a couple of points that I think are particularly important:

1. There is a lot of evidence that being a good test-taker does not necessarily overlap with other desirable properties, either on the individual level or on the local or national or international level.

2. A lot of silly things are read into comparing how many questions they get right in one country versus another.

3. The United States has now TEN FULL YEARS in which it has based essentially ALL educational decisions on test scores, with a small but well-funded and powerful group claiming that it would produce miracles in raising American students’ test scores on every level that they can be measured.

4. Those results have been a complete and utter failure EVEN ON THE TERMS CLAIMED BY this bipartisan group of Educational DEformers (or GERM group): the US scores on the PISA are essentially the same as when PISA started, back in the 1990s. (I’ll locate the graph later and post it.)

5. Every single nation that I’ve looked at has a very large gap in test scores between poor kids and rich kids. Some are even wider than ours.

6. As usual on the PISA, the US is in the middle of the pack. We are kind of an orange, below the UK which is in black.

7. Arne Duncan and his ilk say that the fact that the same approach has failed for 10 straight years, means we need to keep doing it harder. Sensible people would say no, let’s forget about measuring with stupid standardized tests. Let the kids learn, remember that humans LOVE to learn stuff — it’s what we do as a species. And precisely nobody knows what knowledge of today is going to be the most useful or fun tomorrow. So let’s get rid of the idiotic focus on standardized tests and Big Data, and stop wasting so much money and time and energy on them. We’ve got all sorts of art and sports and drama and dance and music and technology and building stuff and real science and history and psychology to learn and to perform.

Pisa 2012 results graphic

Published in: on December 4, 2013 at 11:25 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Bravo!!


  2. […] Brandenburg, as you would expect, has a pithy and wise commentary about the PISA […]


  3. “What does [how students answered the questions on] the International PISA Math Test Really Tell Us?” is the title of my article,” which appeared in American Association of School Administrators Journal of Scholarship and Practice. See Pages 31-42 at
    What does PISA Math Really tell us? Students need instruction in multi-step Arithmetic word problems.
    What does PISA Math not tell us? Students need instruction in Arithmetic and Algebraic calculations. Students need the opportunity to develop “number sense”.
    For these reasons, do not rush students into Algebra in Grade 8.
    Is PISA valid? The question rarely asked. Answer: NO!
    It’s Finland Beware – NOT Beware of Finland. Finnish engineering students have difficulty with fractions and simple algebraic expressions.
    I do not consider education a horse race.


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