Thursday, June 21 was consumed entirely with a three-hour flight from Helsinki to Paris and then negotiating the Paris traffic for a lengthy briefing on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) at the highly security-conscious Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
OECD is an organization founded in the 1960s to sustain economic growth in developed nations and now numbers 34 member states. PISA is the assessment system administered by OECD. It attempts to measure the skills of 15-year-old students in reading, mathematics, and science in 70 or more jurisdictions (nations and individual cities). Michael Davidson of the early childhood and schools division of OECD’s directorate of education delivered a remarkable and comprehensive briefing.
He described PISA as an assessment system designed to help governments create education systems focused on quality, equity, and efficiency because “skills drive economies” and “good education for young people is the best way to give them a better future.” He identified the US as a system that is in a quadrant described as high performing with large disparities in socio-economic status. Shanghai, by contrast, was defined as a high performing system with a high degree of social equity. Challenged on the Shanghai description on the grounds that recent research indicates Shanghai to be a highly discriminatory system in which just 5% of low-income students in the city are estimated to be in school at the age of 15, Davidson conceded that more investigation of this issue is required and noted that “PISA measures students who are in school. If they’re not in schools, we don’t assess them.” While describing an ambitious agenda to make PISA more relevant to practice in the future, including plans for more flexible, computer-based assessments and hopes for linking PISA results to state assessments in the United States, he also acknowledged that PISA’s estimates of per-pupil expenditures by nation may report national expenditure elements that consist of different data elements and calculations in different nations.