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Topic: Academics call for pause in PISA tests
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
Academics call for pause in PISA tests
Posted: Jul 6, 2014 2:59 PM
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From The Washington Post, May 13, 2014. See
Academics call for pause in PISA tests

By Valerie Strauss

Here's an open letter written by academics and
school activists from around the world to Andreas
Schleicher, director of the Program of
International Student Assessment, known as PISA,
which tests 15-year-olds in dozens of countries
and individual education systems in math, reading
and science every three years. The letter
expresses concerns about the impact PISA is
having on education systems around the world and
asks him "to consider skipping" the next exams
and come up with an improved assessment.

U.S. students historically score at best average
on international exams, including PISA. Every
time new results are released, we hear cries that
this is proof of the decline of American public
education - even though, as already noted but is
worth repeating - Americans have never been at
the top of international exams, even when public
education wasn't being questioned. Shanghai came
out with the No. 1 international ranking in the
2012 PISA administration, though questions
emerged about whether Shanghai deserved that

Here's the letter, which was first published by
The Guardian (Monday, May 5, 2014) [see
] :

Dear Dr. Schleicher,

We write to you in your capacity as OECD's
(Organisation for Economic Co-operation and
Development) director of the Programme of
International Student Assessment (Pisa). Now in
its 13th year, Pisa is known around the world as
an instrument to rank OECD and non-OECD countries
(60-plus at last count) according to a measure of
academic achievement of 15-year-old students in
mathematics, science, and reading. Administered
every three years, Pisa results are anxiously
awaited by governments, education ministers, and
the editorial boards of newspapers, and are cited
authoritatively in countless policy reports. They
have begun to deeply influence educational
practices in many countries. As a result of Pisa,
countries are overhauling their education systems
in the hopes of improving their rankings. Lack of
progress on Pisa has led to declarations of
crisis and "Pisa shock" in many countries,
followed by calls for resignations, and
far-reaching reforms according to Pisa precepts.

We are frankly concerned about the negative
consequences of the Pisa rankings. These are some
of our concerns:

* While standardised testing has been used in
many nations for decades (despite serious
reservations about its validity and reliability),
Pisa has contributed to an escalation in such
testing and a dramatically increased reliance on
quantitative measures. For example, in the US,
Pisa has been invoked as a major justification
for the recent "Race to the Top" programme, which
has increased the use of standardised testing for
student-, teacher-, and administrator
evaluations, which rank and label students, as
well as teachers and administrators according to
the results of tests widely known to be imperfect
(see, for example, Finland's unexplained decline
from the top of the Pisa table).

* In education policy, Pisa, with its three-year
assessment cycle, has caused a shift of attention
to short-term fixes designed to help a country
quickly climb the rankings, despite research
showing that enduring changes in education
practice take decades, not a few years, to come
to fruition. For example, we know that the status
of teachers and the prestige of teaching as a
profession have a strong influence on the quality
of instruction, but that status varies strongly
across cultures and is not easily influenced by
short-term policy.

* By emphasising a narrow range of measurable
aspects of education, Pisa takes attention away
from the less measurable or immeasurable
educational objectives like physical, moral,
civic and artistic development, thereby
dangerously narrowing our collective imagination
regarding what education is and ought to be about.

* As an organisation of economic development,
OECD is naturally biased in favour of the
economic role of public [state] schools. But
preparing young men and women for gainful
employment is not the only, and not even the main
goal of public education, which has to prepare
students for participation in democratic
self-government, moral action and a life of
personal development, growth and wellbeing.

* Unlike United Nations (UN) organisations such
as UNESCO or UNICEF that have clear and
legitimate mandates to improve education and the
lives of children around the world, OECD has no
such mandate. Nor are there, at present,
mechanisms of effective democratic participation
in its education decision-making process.

* To carry out Pisa and a host of follow-up
services, OECD has embraced "public-private
partnerships" and entered into alliances with
multi-national for-profit companies, which stand
to gain financially from any deficits-real or
perceived-unearthed by Pisa. Some of these
companies provide educational services to
American schools and school districts on a
massive, for-profit basis, while also pursuing
plans to develop for-profit elementary education
in Africa, where OECD is now planning to
introduce the Pisa programme.

* Finally, and most importantly: the new Pisa
regime, with its continuous cycle of global
testing, harms our children and impoverishes our
classrooms, as it inevitably involves more and
longer batteries of multiple-choice testing, more
scripted "vendor"-made lessons, and less autonomy
for teachers. In this way Pisa has further
increased the already high stress level in
schools, which endangers the wellbeing of
students and teachers.
These developments are in overt conflict with
widely accepted principles of good educational
and democratic practice:

* No reform of any consequence should be based on
a single narrow measure of quality.
* No reform of any consequence should ignore the
important role of non-educational factors, among
which a nation's socio-economic inequality is
paramount. In many countries, including the US,
inequality has dramatically increased over the
past 15 years, explaining the widening
educational gap between rich and poor which
education reforms, no matter how sophisticated,
are unlikely to redress.
* An organisation like OECD, as any organisation
that deeply affects the life of our communities,
should be open to democratic accountability by
members of those communities.

We are writing not only to point out deficits and
problems. We would also like to offer
constructive ideas and suggestions that may help
to alleviate the above mentioned concerns. While
in no way complete, they illustrate how learning
could be improved without the above mentioned
negative effects:

1 Develop alternatives to league tables: explore
more meaningful and less easily sensationalised
ways of reporting assessment outcomes. For
example, comparing developing countries, where
15-year-olds are regularly drafted into child
labour, with first-world countries makes neither
educational nor political sense and opens OECD up
for charges of educational colonialism.

2 Make room for participation by the full range
of relevant constituents and scholarship: to
date, the groups with greatest influence on what
and how international learning is assessed are
psychometricians, statisticians, and economists.
They certainly deserve a seat at the table, but
so do many other groups: parents, educators,
administrators, community leaders, students, as
well as scholars from disciplines like
anthropology, sociology, history, philosophy,
linguistics, as well as the arts and humanities.
What and how we assess the education of
15-year-old students should be subject to
discussions involving all these groups at local,
national, and international levels.

3 Include national and international
organisations in the formulation of assessment
methods and standards whose mission goes beyond
the economic aspect of public education and which
are concerned with the health, human development,
well-being and happiness of students and
teachers. This would include the above mentioned
United Nations organisations, as well as teacher,
parent, and administrator associations, to name a

4 Publish the direct and indirect costs of
administering Pisa so that taxpayers in member
countries can gauge alternative uses of the
millions of dollars spent on these tests and
determine if they want to continue their
participation in it.

5 Welcome oversight by independent international
monitoring teams which can observe the
administration of Pisa from the conception to the
execution, so that questions about test format
and statistical and scoring procedures can be
weighed fairly against charges of bias or unfair

6 Provide detailed accounts regarding the role of
private, for-profit companies in the preparation,
execution, and follow-up to the tri-annual Pisa
assessments to avoid the appearance or reality of
conflicts of interest.

7 Slow down the testing juggernaut. To gain time
to discuss the issues mentioned here at local,
national, and international levels, consider
skipping the next Pisa cycle. This would give
time to incorporate the collective learning that
will result from the suggested deliberations in a
new and improved assessment model.

We assume that OECD's Pisa experts are motivated
by a sincere desire to improve education. But we
fail to understand how your organisation has
become the global arbiter of the means and ends
of education around the world. OECD's narrow
focus on standardised testing risks turning
learning into drudgery and killing the joy of
learning. As Pisa has led many governments into
an international competition for higher test
scores, OECD has assumed the power to shape
education policy around the world, with no debate
about the necessity or limitations of OECD's
goals. We are deeply concerned that measuring a
great diversity of educational traditions and
cultures using a single, narrow, biased yardstick
could, in the end, do irreparable harm to our
schools and our students.


Andrews, Paul Professor of Mathematics Education, Stockholm University
Atkinson, Lori New York State Allies for Public Education
Ball, Stephen J Karl Mannheim Professor of
Sociology of Education, Institute of Education,
University of London
Barber, Melissa Parents Against High Stakes Testing
Beckett, Lori Winifred Mercier Professor of
Teacher Education, Leeds Metropolitan University
Berardi, Jillaine Linden Avenue Middle School, Assistant Principal
Berliner, David Regents Professor of Education at Arizona State University
Bloom, Elizabeth EdD Associate Professor of Education, Hartwick College
Boudet, Danielle Oneonta Area for Public Education
Boland, Neil Senior lecturer, AUT University, Auckland, New Zealand
Burris, Carol Principal and former Teacher of the Year
Cauthen, Nancy PhD Change the Stakes, NYS Allies for Public Education
Cerrone, Chris Testing Hurts Kids; NYS Allies for Public Education
Ciaran, Sugrue Professor, Head of School, School
of Education, University College Dublin
Deutermann, Jeanette Founder Long Island Opt Out,
Co-founder NYS Allies for Public Education
Devine, Nesta Associate Professor, Auckland
University of Technology, New Zealand
Dodge, Arnie Chair, Department of Educational
Leadership, Long Island University
Dodge, Judith Author, Educational Consultant
Farley, Tim Principal, Ichabod Crane School; New
York State Allies for Public Education
Fellicello, Stacia Principal, Chambers Elementary School
Fleming, Mary Lecturer, School of Education,
National University of Ireland, Galway
Fransson, Göran Associate Professor of Education, University of Gävle, Sweden
Giroux, Henry Professor of English and Cultural Studies, McMaster University
Glass, Gene Senior Researcher, National Education
Policy Center, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Glynn, Kevin Educator, co-founder of Lace to the Top
Goldstein, Harvey Professor of Social Statistics, University of Bristol
Gorlewski, David Director, Educational Leadership
Doctoral Program, D'Youville College
Gorlewski, Julie PhD, Assistant Professor, State
University of New York at New Paltz
Gowie, Cheryl Professor of Education, Siena College
Greene, Kiersten Assistant Professor of Literacy,
State University of New York at New Paltz
Haimson, Leonie Parent Advocate and Director of "Class Size Matters"
Heinz, Manuela Director of Teaching Practice,
School of Education, National University of
Ireland Galway
Hughes, Michelle Principal, High Meadows Independent School
Jury, Mark Chair, Education Department, Siena College
Kahn, Hudson Valley Against Common Core
Kayden, Michelle Linden Avenue Middle School Red Hook, New York
Kempf, Arlo Program Coordinator of School and
Society, OISE, University of Toronto
Kilfoyle, Marla NBCT, General Manager of BATs
Labaree, David Professor of Education, Stanford University
Leonardatos, Harry Principal, high school, Clarkstown, New York
MacBeath, John Professor Emeritus, Director of
Leadership for Learning, University of Cambridge
McLaren, Peter Distinguished Professor, Chapman University
McNair, Jessica Co-founder Opt-Out CNY, parent
member NYS Allies for Public Education
Meyer, Heinz-Dieter Associate Professor,
Education Governance & Policy, State University
of New York (Albany)
Meyer, Tom Associate Professor of Secondary
Education, State University of New York at New
Millham, Rosemary PhD Science Coordinator, Master
Teacher Campus Director, SUNY New Paltz
Millham, Rosemary Science Coordinator/Assistant
Professor, Master Teacher Campus Director, State
University of New York, New Paltz
Oliveira Andreotti Vanessa Canada Research Chair
in Race, Inequality, and Global Change,
University of British Columbia
Sperry, Carol Emerita, Millersville University, Pennsylvania
Mitchell, Ken Lower Hudson Valley Superintendents Council
Mucher, Stephen Director, Bard Master of Arts in Teaching Program, Los Angeles
Tuck, Eve Assistant Professor, Coordinator of
Native American Studies, State University of New
York at New Paltz
Naison, Mark Professor of African American
Studies and History, Fordham University;
Co-Founder, Badass Teachers Association
Nielsen, Kris Author, Children of the Core
Noddings, Nel Professor (emerita) Philosophy of Education, Stanford University
Noguera, Pedro Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education, New York University
Nunez, Isabel Associate Professor, Concordia University, Chicago
Pallas, Aaron Arthur I Gates Professor of
Sociology and Education, Columbia University
Peters, Michael Professor, University of Waikato,
Honorary Fellow, Royal Society New Zealand
Pugh, Nigel Principal, Richard R Green High School of Teaching, New York City
Ravitch, Diane Research Professor, New York University
Rivera-Wilson Jerusalem Senior Faculty Associate
and Director of Clinical Training and Field
Experiences, University at Albany
Roberts, Peter Professor, School of Educational
Studies and Leadership, University of Canterbury,
New Zealand
Rougle, Eija Instructor, State University of New York, Albany
Rudley, Lisa Director: Education Policy-Autism Action Network
Saltzman, Janet Science Chair, Physics Teacher, Red Hook High School
Schniedewind, Nancy Professor of Education, State
University of New York, New Paltz
Silverberg, Ruth Associate Professor, College of
Staten Island, City University of New York
Sperry, Carol Professor of Education, Emerita, Millersville University
St. John, Edward Algo D. Henderson Collegiate Professor, University of Michigan
Suzuki, Daiyu Teachers College at Columbia University
Swaffield, Sue Senior Lecturer, Educational
Leadership and School Improvement, University of
Tanis, Bianca Parent Member: ReThinking Testing
Thomas, Paul Associate Professor of Education, Furman University
Thrupp, Martin Professor of Education, University of Waikato, New Zealand
Tobin, KT Founding member, ReThinking Testing
Tomlinson, Sally Emeritus Professor, Goldsmiths
College, University of London; Senior Research
Fellow, Department of Education, Oxford University
Tuck, Eve Coordinator of Native American Studies,
State University of New York at New Paltz
VanSlyke-Briggs Kjersti Associate Professor,
State University of New York, Oneonta
Wilson, Elaine Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge
Wrigley, Terry Honorary senior research fellow,
University of Ballarat, Australia
Zahedi, Katie Principal, Linden Ave Middle School, Red Hook, New York
Zhao, Yong Professor of Education, Presidential Chair, University of Oregon
Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.

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