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PISA Tests: Equal Assessment or Creative Block?

Hands raised in classroom Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

It’s the middle of 2014, and that means that educators’ eyes are turning to the big hurdle of the next academic year: the newest round of PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) testing. This test, which is administered by the OECD, takes place every three years with a rotating group of topics. Students in countries from around the world “compete”, with top placement being considered a national honor by some educators. The OECD claims that the PISA test is more objective than other measures of student learning, because it’s not tied to a local or national curriculum (see About PISA).

But not New Zealand.

Although New Zealand has participated in PISA in the past, educators are now calling on lawmakers to end their affiliation with the program. New Zealanders’ scores dropped in 2012, but this is not considered a major argument in favor of dropping the test. Currently, the government is trying to glean the secrets of success from top PISA scorers, such as Singapore.

In addition, a group of over 100 university professors and secondary-school teachers signed an “open letter” to the head of PISA protesting the test. They claim that classroom focus on the skills measurable by PISA stifle creativity and will ultimately reduce innovative thinking. It’s unclear if this is the case, as the PISA test has only existed since 2000; 2015 marks its sixth test cycle, with increased participation.

Adherents point out that the test includes practical, real-world questions and facilitates comparisons between student cohorts both over time (within a single country) and in comparison to peer countries.

Read more: Ditch ‘flawed’ Pisa school tests, say academics

About the Author: Jaclyn Neel is a visiting Assistant Professor in Ancient History at York University in Toronto, Ontario.

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