There was a time when international standardised tests like PISA and TIMMS were used to provide meaningful insights into the quality of learning and teaching across educational jurisdictions. Nowadays these tests have been turned into weapons that are often used to rank, judge and compare educational systems creating what British educationist Sir Michael Barber calls ‘PISA-shock’.
The performance of school systems has become everyone’s business from policy-makers to media commentators thanks to the wide-spread availability of data. The danger is not in the use of standardised test data but its misuse. As Dr Simon Breakspear wrote in 2015, “…the OECD should be explicit about the limits of PISA – as a narrow metric devoid of cultural or contextual insights.” In other words, PISA and the like should not used as tools for policy decisions. Data out of context leads us down a narrow path and into a crisis of confidence.
I believe the way in which we de-weaponise standardised test data is to arm the right people with the skills to use it in ways that improve the quality of learning and teaching. The smart use of data leads to continuous intelligent conversations on how to transform schooling not punchy headlines that criticise schools or knee-jerk policies that cripple teachers.