10 things to love about PISA for Schools

Sara Ratner|March 3, 2021

In a world where educators and education decision makers increasingly seek a holistic approach to equipping the next generation with enduring skills and knowledge, traditional one-dimensional tests and exams are proving limited.

Authentic assessments that enable learning and teaching to be tailored to nurture each individual student through the prism of their unique circumstances and strengths are emerging as the way of the future.

The bedrock of this individualised approach is a self-aware school ecosystem – one in which schools have a clear, proportional and global perspective of their strengths, weaknesses and outcomes – both academic and interpersonal.

The voluntary PISA for Schools test (also known as the OECD Test for Schools in the US), already delivered in more than 12 countries, was created by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to enable this, no matter how affluent or poor the school, no matter whether remotely or centrally located. It takes the country-to-country league tables associated with the renowned three-yearly PISA exam to a granular school level, to provide individual schools with a tangible understanding of their own teaching environment, as compared with other schools.

PISA for Schools doesn’t assess curriculum or identify individual students. It’s low-stakes, grounded and real-world.

In the words of OECD Director for the Directorate for Education and Skills Andreas Schleicher: “PISA looks at school systems from 30,000 feet above the ground – giving countries the big picture on how their systems compare in terms of the quality or equity of their learning outcomes.

“PISA for Schools brings it down to earth – giving schools the tools to compare their own learning outcomes, and their learning environments, to those of other schools by using the global PISA framework.”

Here are 10 reasons for schools and educators to love PISA for Schools.

1. It’s global

The test runs in countries across the world where it’s making a difference to education. From the UK to Japan, Russia to Thailand, it contributes to improving student learning opportunities and wellbeing by empowering teachers and school leaders.

2. It’s best in class

The only school-based assessment in the world to be underpinned by the gold-standard PISA-based scales, the test is the most credible measurement tool available. This was recently confirmed by OECD researchers in the comprehensive International Linking Study.

3. It’s strongly focused on equity

As well as a two-hour cognitive test in reading, mathematics and science, PISA for Schools includes a 30-minute student questionnaire. It asks about the student’s home environment – how many computers or devices are in their home, how many books, what careers their parents are in – and in doing so gives a palpable measure of the children’s socioeconomic diversity.

From that, the test can extrapolate key data points on the kind of learning context that students are in and reports on their performance according to the gap between the most and the least advantaged.

This supports teachers and schools in allocating their time and resources to where they can make a true difference and promotes the provision of educational excellence for all.

4. It’s all about authentic, real-world learning

Authentic assessment, for any educator, is key. PISA for Schools isn’t a test of curriculum, nor is it a test of how much knowledge teachers can cram into lessons or how much students can rehash by rote in a test. Instead it explores how students can actively apply their school-based learning to real-world scenarios. The questions measure how students will take their maths, reading and science out into the world of work, study, or whichever path they take.

5. It’s accessible for all

From the poorest communities in Brazil, to remote regions in Russia (such as Ryazan, pictured above) or the most affluent areas of the US, PISA for Schools uses pioneering digital delivery technology to open this benchmark test to schools no matter their location, infrastructure or internet connection quality. The technology, which can run online or offline, enables the test to be taken in virtually any part of the world.

6. It supports educators

The core goal of PISA for Schools is the very opposite of creating an elite schools table, or pitching teachers into competition against each other, or calling out poor performers in the media. In fact, the results are never published.

Instead the test and its analytics actively build teacher capacity by providing detailed, high-value information that educators can use to support future strategic plans, allocate spending and drive school improvement.

The test further facilitates this by giving every teacher in every school that sits the test their own unique login to the International Peer Learning Community. This online teaching network allows them to connect with and learn from peers globally. The school is also invited to participate in post-assessment workshops with the OECD to help unpack the data in their individualised school report.

7. It provides exceptional, confidential evidence

Each school that participates receives an individualised 80-plus page school report linked to the PISA scales. This tailored report compares the individual school against national, OECD and international (like school) results. No student or teacher is identifiable, which means the test remains low-stress and low-stakes.

A sample version of the report can be downloaded here. Results are the property of the school and are never published by the OECD or used to generate public reports or league tables.

8. It’s a force for good

In every part of the world it’s delivered, PISA for Schools is a force for good in driving school improvement. It truly walks the walk of the ultimate goal of education: to drive change and plan for a generation’s future.

9. It’s about hearts and minds

PISA for Schools is a unique lens that brings together the heart and mind. Cognitive results are combined with a spotlight on student motivation, engagement, the classroom climate and the teacher-student relationship to provide a detailed picture of the school and identify any disconnects.

For example, although a school’s students may be excelling at maths or achieving above and beyond the OECD average and the international average in reading, they’re not motivated and engaged. The test uncovers this misalignment and allows teachers to address it. Inarguably, a unison of heart and mind is at the core of every educator’s wish for their students’ learning.

10. The team

The international OECD team is passionately invested in being a force for good in education globally. It’s a community comprised of education experts who go above and beyond to deliver PISA for Schools and assist schools in capitalising on what the test has to offer.

Are you considering running PISA for Schools at your school? Register your interest here.


About the Author

Sara Ratner

Group Executive – OECD PISA for Schools, Janison

View more blog posts

Subscribe to the Janison Blog