It was interesting to read the global response against PISA in the Guardian last week. It follows on from Yong Zhao’s recent blog posts outlining the negative impacts of PISA rankings on education systems and education policy.
The open letter from academics called for the 2015 PISA tests to be scrapped. The group expressed their concern at the ‘distorting effect’ PISA is having on educational practice. They claim in short that PISA leads to a focus on narrow outcomes, short-term policy fixes, the commercialisation of educational services and endangers the overall wellbeing of students and teachers.
The letter concludes with constructive ideas that may help to address the challenge of improving schooling for all students. It highlights the need for greater transparency, collaboration and accountability in delivering quality learning and teaching across OECD countries.
The authors assert: “OECD’s narrow focus on standardised testing risks turning learning into drudgery and killing the joy of learning. 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.”
It’s difficult to disagree with the concerns raised in the open letter but I think we should be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater here. For me, the benefit of instruments like PISA should be used by effective educators along with broad data sets to help inform improvements in learning and teaching. Standardised tests become problematic when they are hijacked or used for utilitarian purposes, which have little to do with learning and teaching and more to do with political point scoring or sectional interests.
Schools become easy targets when these tests are used as the basis of league tables or quick fix policies and the honest efforts of schools to improve are disrupted or derailed. I agree that PISA in its current form doesn’t do justice to the complexity of schooling in today’s world or the cultural traditions of OECD nations.
I hope the global consternation will lead to deeper and more transparent discussions over how data is used to improve the quality and relevancy of schooling for all.
PS: Yong Zhao will be with us in Parramatta next month to deliver the annual Ann D Clark lecture. His keynote on the need for new paradigms and ways of assessing ‘learning’ is relevant and timely not only for us but for education systems everywhere.