Following the cascade of headlines on the release of TIMSS scores last week, the results of the 2015 PISA tests were announced yesterday. There were some cautions about putting too much weight on the rankings. In fact, both Valerie Strauss in the US (“Why Americans should not panic about international test results”) and Stewart Riddle and Bob Lingard in Australia (Pisa results don’t look good, but let’s look at what we can learn before we panic) tried to stave off knee jerk reactions. Nonetheless, as usual, the headlines around the world seem to focus primarily on who’s on top of the rankings and where individual countries place on one or more of the tested subjects of math, reading, and science. Times Higher Education put it succinctly — Pisa results 2016: Singapore sweeps the board – but noted that while East Asian countries dominate the rankings, “China loses ground in tables after new provinces are included for the first time.” While some reports about TIMSS noted declines in performance by Finnish 15 year-olds, Finland remained near the top on the PISA tests, but the high performance of neighboring Estonia was recognized as well (Finland and Estonia top of the class in EU for education, Euronews). Other countries beyond Asia, like Canada, also received some positive headlines (Canadian students rank fourth for science performance, The Globe and Mail).
Many headlines in Australia seized on bad results from PISA 2015 that echoed declines on TIMMS (as Teacher Magazine put it, PISA 2015 brings more bad news for Australia while ABC Online highlighted Australian schools are in ‘absolute decline’ globally, says PISA report). At the same time, in headlines and on twitter, concerns (and blame) over poor performance of Wales and Scotland were also in evidence (Full Pisa results 2016 show Wales’ schools are still adrift of the rest of the rest of the UK, Wales Online; Scottish school standards in maths and reading slump in damning PISA survey, Herald Scotland).
There was also considerable controversy in Malaysia where government officials touted what they viewed as improved results (PISA 2015: Malaysia shows significant improvement in Math, Science & reading, New Straits Times Online); however, critics pointed out that OECD did not include Malaysia in the results of PISA 2015 (PISA 2015: Malaysia shows significant improvement in Math, Science & reading, New Straits Times Online). Quotes from one source cited OECD’s concern of a response rate of sampled schools in Malaysia of roughly 50% compared to the desired 85% response rate.
Beyond the headlines, reporting sometimes noted both good news and bad news. As (a rough translation) from Diario Perú21, put it: “The good news is that the level of Peruvian schoolchildren improved in the last three years – the fastest… in Latin America, the bad news is that Peru still ranks in the last place on the list.”
Meanwhile, Spiegel Online noted that German students were in the “upper middle” of the rankings but also highlighted that only two other countries scored lower when students were asked whether they could envision a career in science. In the US, however, stories headlined declines in math performance with only a mention or two that the association of between socio-economic status and student performance in science in the US has declined (American teens’ math scores fall on an international test, Los Angeles Times; Internationally, U.S. Students Are Falling, US News & World Report).
In a few cases, reports went beyond the basic rankings to highlight other aspects of the findings. Schools Week for example, headlined “No improvement for a decade” but also highlighted what it called “10 other oddities” including “White working class pupils are not doing worse than ethnic minority working class pupils”and “Second-generation immigrant children do as well as pupils with parents born in England.” Quartz also used the PISA 2015 release to headline gender issues (The origin of Silicon Valley’s gender problem). A number of reports also picked up on several other results that OECD highlighted, including gender gaps (particularly in interest in and career aspirations in science) and countries that were high performers and showed equity in education outcomes (like Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Hong Kong and Macao). However, those issues usually did not make it into the headlines.
(It is worth noting, however, that this exercise of scanning the headlines continues to be limited by language abilities and the vagaries of online translations, which continue to produce hard to interpret results like “Science does not go into the forest! Polish students at the forefront of PISA 2015”)
— Thomas Hatch
Australia not preparing students for adult life, Sky News Australia
PISA 2015 brings more bad news for Australia, Teacher Magazine
Teenagers fall year behind internationally in maths, The Australian
Canadian students rank fourth for science performance, The Globe and Mail
PISA 2015: Estonia’s basic education best in Europe, The Baltic Course
Pisa-Studie: Deutschland hält sich im oberen Mittelfeld, Spiegel Online
Irish students among ‘best at reading’ in developed world, In-Depth-Irish Times
Japan’s 15-year-olds perform well in PISA global academic survey, The Japan Times
Education | Macau students ‘score high’ on PISA 2015, Macau Daily Times
NZ students’ results decline, but still above OECD average – PISA …, New Zealand Herald
PISA 2015: Malaysia shows significant improvement in Math, Science & reading, New Straits Times Online
Norwegian 15 year olds climbing on the PISA rankings, Aftenposten
American teens’ math scores fall on an international test, Los Angeles Times
Internationally, U.S. Students Are Falling, US News & World Report