Friday, February 12, 2016

Why teacher professionalism matters

by Katarzyna Kubacka
Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills

If you were to search for the term teacher professionalism on the Internet, you may come across websites recommending professional dress code or “look” for teachers. Although this may be of some use to a new teacher, appearance is not what most policy makers, school leaders and teachers have in mind when they insist on the need for a quality professional teacher force.

So what exactly do we mean when we talk about teacher professionalism? The new Teaching in Focus brief: Teacher professionalism uses results from the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) to show that teacher professionalism is about a teacher’s knowledge, their autonomy and their membership of peer networks. These are the key elements that lead to more effective teaching.

Based on the new OECD report: Supporting teacher professionalism: Evidence from TALIS 2013, the brief shows that different countries focus on different aspects of teacher professionalism. For example, some systems put more emphasis on supporting the teacher knowledge base through activities such as incentivising teacher professional development, some focus on autonomy through giving more decision making to teachers (e.g. over the course offerings or teaching content), and some focus on peer networks through cultivating strong networks of teachers.

These different practices are an important basis for a quality teaching force and they also impact on how teachers feel about their work. Teachers are more satisfied and confident, and have a higher perception of the value of the teaching profession in society, when there is more support for peer networks and development of knowledge base.

Practices that support strong teacher professionalism are particularly beneficial in schools with a high population of socio-economically disadvantaged students, second-learners or students with special needs (high needs schools). Teachers in such schools can face many challenges that are unfamiliar to teachers in well-performing, low needs schools. Unfortunately, practices to support teacher professionalism are, in many countries, less frequent in high than in low needs schools. This is a missed opportunity to provide a boost to teachers in challenging situations, particularly because the positive relationship between teacher professionalism and job satisfaction is amplified in high needs schools.

The OECD report provides clear recommendations to systems wanting to cultivate teaching, and in particular teacher professionalism. To increase teacher professionalism, systems should provide induction and mentoring programmes, create incentives for participating in professional development, and boost teacher collaboration. By supporting these practices, stakeholders can build a teaching force that is more professional, happier and more confident. The results will might not be seen in a teacher’s appearance, but definitely in the quality of the teaching and learning.

Links:
Supporting teacher professionalism: Evidence from TALIS 2013
TALIS 2013 Results: An International Perspective on Teaching and Learning 
A Teachers' Guide to TALIS 2013: Teaching and Learning International Survey
New Insights from TALIS 2013: Teaching and Learning in Primary and Upper Secondary Education 
Teaching in Focus No. 14: Teacher professionalism
L'enseignement á la Loupe No. 14: Professionnalisme des enseignants
For more on the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS): http://www.oecd.org/edu/school/talis.htm
Photo credit: © Andersen Ross/Inmagine LTD

You can join the launch live webcast hosted by Alliance for Excellent Education, NCTAF, and OECD from Washington Friday, February 12, 2016  10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. (ET) (16:00 Paris time)
Follow @OECDEduSkills for live tweeting.
Register now

Follow on #OECDTALIS

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Are we failing our failing students?

by Daniel Salinas
Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills



Tens of thousands of students in each country, and millions of students around the world, reach the end of their compulsory education without having acquired the basic skills needed in today’s society and workplace. In fact, not even the countries that lead the international rankings of education performance can yet claim that all of their 15-year-old students have achieved a baseline level of proficiency in mathematics, reading and science. Apart from the obvious damage this does to individual lives, failure of this magnitude has severe consequences for economies and societies as a whole.

A new PISA report, Low-Performing Students: Why They Fall Behind and How to Help Them Succeed, offers an in-depth analysis of low performance at school and recommends ways to tackle the problem.

Analyses show that a combination and accumulation of factors contribute to the likelihood that some students perform poorly in school. Coming from a socio-economically disadvantaged family is the most obvious and perhaps strongest risk factor of low performance at school, but it is not the only one. Students with an immigrant background and those who speak a language at home that is different from the one spoken at school, rural students and those living in single-parent families are, in many countries, more likely to perform poorly. Interestingly, gender stereotypes affect girls and boys differently, depending on the subject: whereas girls are more likely than boys to be low performers in mathematics, boys are more likely than girls to be low performers in reading and science.

Students’ educational opportunities, attitudes and behaviours also matter. Students who had no or only brief access to pre-primary education are more likely to be low performers than those who attended more than a year of pre-primary education. Low performers are also more often found among those who have repeated a grade – whether because low performance led to grade repetition or because grade repetition in earlier grades led to disengagement from school and low performance at age 15 – or who are enrolled in vocational programmes. But students who make the most out of available opportunities – attending school regularly, working harder at school, spending more time doing homework, and participating in extracurricular activities available at school – are less likely to perform poorly.

School-related factors can also contribute to students’ low performance. For example, students are more likely to acquire at least basic proficiency in their school subjects when their teachers have high expectations for them, have better morale, and respond to their students’ needs. Schools where there is more socio-economic diversity among students and less grouping by ability between classes tend to provide a better learning environment for struggling students.

Clearly, there are things that can be done to improve student performance; and over the past decade a diverse group of countries – including Brazil, Germany, Japan and Mexico – has reduced the share of low performers in one or more subjects. The first step for policy makers is to make tackling low performance a priority in their education policy agenda. Because the profile of low performers varies significantly across countries, it is essential to identify low performers and develop multi-pronged, tailored approaches. Tackling low performance requires stepping in as early as possible. That means, among other things, offering pre-primary education opportunities and remedial support in early grades. Providing schools with language and/or psycho-social support (e.g. psychologists, mentors, counsellors) for struggling students and their families, offering extracurricular activities, and training teachers to work with these students can also help. Students, too, can help themselves make the most of their schooling – and their own potential – by showing up at school – on time – and investing their best efforts in learning.

Links:
Low-Performing Students: Why They Fall Behind and How to Help Them Succeed
PISA in Focus No. 60: Who are the low-performing students?
PISA á la loupe No. 60: Qui sont les élèves peu performants?
Photo credit: © OECD

Join a free Webinar (February 10, 19h30 CET) with Andreas Schleicher, OECD Director of Education and Skills, and Daniel Salinas, OECD education analyst and main author of the report. Register here
Follow on: #OECDPISA

Monday, February 08, 2016

On target for 21st-century learning? The answers (and questions) are now on line

by Tue Halgreen
Analyst, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills
Kelly
Makowiecki
Research Assistant, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

Put your pencils down. No, the test isn’t over; it might just be starting: the PISA-based Test for Schools has gone digital.

School leaders are calling the PISA-based Test for Schools one of the better indicators out there of how well students are prepared for 21st century learning. It’s a wake-up call as to whether a school’s students are ready to compete on the global market. When asked what students like about the test, one responded: “The questions were relevant to today’s society.”

The PISA-based Test for Schools (known in the United States as the OECD Test for Schools) was developed by the OECD to provide school leaders
and teachers with internationally comparable performance results as well as tangible insights on how to leverage improvements. Whereas PISA, the triennial international survey testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students, assesses education systems as a whole, the PISA-based Test for Schools assesses individual schools using the PISA scale to show how they compare with students and schools in education systems worldwide.

An online version of the test is launched today. The paper-based test was first piloted in 2012 and then offered on-demand to schools for the 2013-14 academic year. Since then, schools in the United States, the United Kingdom and Spain have signed up to participate, and participation is expected to grow with the availability of the PBTS online.

Schools that participate in the PISA-based Test for Schools administer the test to a random sample of 15-year-old students. The test questions are designed to simultaneously assess problem solving and critical thinking in three subjects: reading, mathematics and science. The test also includes a student survey questionnaire that gathers data about student attitudes and school culture. Schools receive a unique report of results that reveals school achievement in comparison to other schools nationally and worldwide- helping educators understand how to accelerate student achievement toward globally competitive outcomes.

School leaders have expressed positive feedback on participating in the PISA-based Test for Schools, repeatedly noting the value of the depth and breadth of the school report provided. The results have helped schools redefine their approaches to making improvements in areas such as curriculum, student’s skills base, and staff training, and helped them learn from global counterparts to make informed changes in policy and practice.

Links:

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Why do we bother with qualifications?

by Simon Field
Senior Analyst, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills


After all, they are just pieces of paper with fancy script and impressive-looking designs, and employers are surely interested in what people can actually do – their skills – rather than pieces of paper? A new OECD study, entitled Building Skills for All, A Review of England casts a spotlight on this question.

Qualifications are useful because they make skills visible. It is confidently assumed that the holder of a school-leaving certificate can read and understand instructions, and make calculations, and that those with university degrees can do much more. This confidence allows employers and others to decide how to make the best use of the skills of the labour force.

In England, as in many countries, young people have more qualifications than ever before. Hopefully that means progress. But surveys of literacy and numeracy, like the new 2012 Survey of Adult Skills, sometimes cloud this rosy vision. In England, although young people aged 16-24 have many more and better qualifications than those aged 55-65, their basic skills are no better. That is something of a surprise, because in most other OECD countries educational progress, in the sense of more qualifications, also corresponds to better basic skills.

The study of England defines the low-skilled as those below level 2 in the OECD Survey of Adult Skills – these are people who very often would find it difficult to understand the instructions on an aspirin packet, or estimate how much petrol remains in the tank after looking at the gauge – basic life skills rather than technical tasks. Roughly one third of those aged 16-19 have low skills by this definition, three times more than the strongest performers, such as the Netherlands, where only one in ten of the same age group have low skills. England’s active programme of school reform, and more recently a set of measures to address literacy and numeracy weaknesses in this age group is therefore very much needed, and it has far to go.

Coming back to qualifications, how many people with good qualifications have low skills?  Across many OECD countries, it is striking how many university graduates have relatively low levels of literacy and numeracy. In England one in ten university students have low skills – far too many. But in some ways this is not a surprise. Looked at across countries England stands out from the crowd: despite weak skills among the teenagers  that aspire to enter university, the entrance rate to universities is high.

Qualifications do have a point, but that means they need to reliably signal skills. Employers need reassurance that qualified young people, including university graduates, have adequate literacy and numeracy. This report argues that, in England, this calls for a rethink, particularly on the role of university education. With a bit of effort, qualifications might come to mean a whole lot more.

Links:
Building Skills for All: A Review of England
Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC)

Photo Credit: White Gas Gauge Illustration @Shutterstock

Friday, January 22, 2016

Joining the battle against extremism

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills


Whoever has a hammer sees every problem as a nail. Those in the security business tend to see the answer to radicalism and terrorism in military might, and those in the financial business in cutting flows of money. So it is only natural for educators to view the struggle against radicalism and terrorism as a battle for hearts and minds. It was no surprise, then, that the roughly 90 education ministers who gathered at this year’s Education World Forum in London, repeatedly touched on this issue.

But the recent terrorist attacks in Europe have brought home that it is far too simplistic to depict extremists and terrorists as victims of poverty or poor qualifications. More research on the background and biographies of extremists and terrorists is badly needed, but it is clear that these people often do not come from the most impoverished parts of societies. Radicals are also found among young people from middle-class families who have ticked all the boxes when it comes to formal education. And ironically, those terrorists seem to be well equipped with the entrepreneurial, creative, global and collaborative social skills that we often promote as the goal of modern education.

But that’s no reason to give up on education as the most powerful tool for building a fairer and more humane and inclusive world. We know that individual trajectories towards extremism flourish in environments that lack social inclusion, well-being and social cohesion. Young people become receptive to extremist ideas when their self-image, self-confidence and interpersonal trust are threatened by fragmented identities and conflicting world views. There is also a clear linkage between countries’ relative success in integrating and educating migrant children and the prevalence of extremism.

Our recent publication, Immigrant Students at School suggests that, certainly in that area, public policy can make a major difference. It highlights how some countries do so much better than others not just in equipping disadvantaged and migrant children with strong academic skills, but also at fostering social integration among these groups. Nine out of ten Norwegian 15-year-old students with an immigrant background say they feel they belong at school, while fewer than 4 out of 10 French migrant students say so. The well-being of immigrant students is affected not just by cultural differences between the country of origin and the host country, but also by how schools and communities help immigrant students deal with the daily problems of living, learning and communicating.

But is that enough to fight radicalism and terrorism? Again, having good academic and social skills doesn’t seem to prevent people from using those skills to destroy, rather than advance, their societies. It comes down to the heart of education: teaching the values that can give students a reliable compass and the tools to navigate with confidence through an increasingly complex, volatile and uncertain world.

Of course, that is difficult territory. To make one’s way through it, one has to strike a balance between strengthening common values in societies, such as respect and tolerance, that cannot be compromised, and appreciating the diversity of our societies and the plurality of values that diversity engenders. Leaning too far in either direction is risky: enforcing an artificial uniformity of values is detrimental to people’s capacity to acknowledge different perspectives; and overemphasising diversity can lead to cultural relativism that questions the legitimacy of any core values.

Several ministers and commentators I spoke with at the World Education Forum commended PISA for its efforts to build metrics to measure “global competency”, a set of skills that enables people to see the world through different eyes and appreciate different ideas, perspectives and values. Indeed, one of the most powerful responses to extremism and radicalisation seems the ability to read and understand diversity, while recognising that the core liberal values of our societies, such as tolerance, are the foundations on which this capacity rests.

But there is more to this. Since the end of the Second World War, liberal democracies have engaged confidently in the global battlefield of ideas. But in the 21st century, it seems that ideological hegemony will result from genuine and open dialogue for the common good. Liberal and democratic ideas and values will have to prove their worth against competing world views. This is where education comes in as well. Universities and international schools – and the online learning programmes many of them now offer – are perfect venues in which these ideas and values can be shared and debated. It is therefore important to support and strengthen international education in its role as a global exchange of ideas. The five million international students who cross borders, and often oceans, to get the best possible education, are also champions of intercultural dialogue and global understanding. There could even be many more of them if we invest in education sufficiently to be able to offer attractive opportunities for bright people in countries where the ideological battles for young people’s minds are increasingly fierce and the stakes alarmingly high.

Links:
Immigrant Students at School: Easing the Journey towards Integration
Education World Forum
Photo Credit: Fake Dictionary, Dictionary definition of the word radicalism.@ Shutterstock

Monday, January 18, 2016

21st Century Children

by Tracey Burns
OECD Directorate for Education and Skills
Manuela Fitzpatrick
MA in International Relations at Science Po, Paris.

"My son was accepted into film-making camp, and he's only seven years old! I'm so proud. The only problem is that I'm not sure how I will get him there since the twins have their dance class and then empathy workshop on the same afternoon".
On the phone with my friend, I make polite noises but inside I am thinking: what ever happened to kids having time to run around and just have fun?

What is the nature of modern childhood? Released today, the book Trends Shaping Education 2016 looks at major social, demographic, economic and technological trends affecting the future of education. One important focus: child well-being. 21st century children are in many ways safer and better protected that children from previous generations. Advances in medicine and stricter safety regulations – such as better bicycle helmets and the increased use of seat belts in cars – have led to a steady decrease in child mortality rates across OECD countries. Older, better educated parents are increasingly advocating for their children and playing an active role in their education. New technologies help parents to monitor their children’s location and well-being constantly, and in case of a problem help is just a phone call – or WhatsApp message – away.

However, at the same time as those new technologies help parents stay connected to their children, they also create new risks (for example, cyber-bullying) that can follow them from the school yard into their homes. In fact, there are signs that the modern world has created new stresses for our children that go beyond technology.

Children in the 21st century are more likely to be only children, with fewer opportunities to interact with siblings. Children and adolescents are increasingly pushed to do more by “helicopter parents”, overprotective parents who hover over their children to protect them from potential harm. Children are reporting higher levels of stress and less sleep. Free time to play is decreasing, and there are worries about the reduction of old-fashioned activities (e.g., running around outside) in favour of time spent in front of a computer screen. In addition, (and perhaps not unrelatedly), child obesity is increasing across the OECD, bringing with it a host of potential physical, social and psychological challenges.

How does the transformed nature of childhood in the 21st century affect education? How can teachers and schools work together with parents and communities to protect and guide children while still allowing them to be children, and learn by making mistakes? Schools have a responsibility to be safe places for learning, and teachers are on the front line of monitoring and ensuring their students’ well-being. Yet many countries are struggling to keep up with the changes in modern childhood and new expectations and responsibilities that have emerged.

These are tough issues for education. And child well-being is just one of the topics Trends Shaping Education 2016 covers. The same chapter also provides a snapshot of a number of other trends affecting children and families that education systems must prepare for, including:

• The rise of non-traditional families: The legalisation of same-sex marriage, for example, began in the Netherlands in 2001 and has steadily spread to almost half of the OECD countries since then. Classrooms are now increasingly likely to include students from non-traditional families – a trend that may pose challenges for some schools in ensuring that students and their families feel accepted.
  
• Youth poverty: The risk of income poverty has shifted over the last four decades from the elderly to the young. In the mid-1980s, young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 were only 20% more likely than the entire population to be in poverty. By 2013, young adults were 60% more likely than the entire population to be in poverty. Is education doing enough to help those most in need?

• Balancing work and family: The vast majority of OECD countries have maternal leave laws, and as of 2010, 20 OECD countries also implemented parental leave legislation (the possibility of leave for both father and mother). In a world where both parents are likely to work, what is the role of early childhood education and care in ensuring child well-being?

Want to know more? Then pick up a copy of today's new book: the 2016 edition of Trends Shaping Education. In addition to families, other chapters examine global trends such as increasing migration and climate change, national trends on government spending in health and pensions, the key role of cities in our societies as well as technological trends. And if you really feel like testing your knowledge, try the quiz!

Links:
Trends Shaping Education 2016
Trends Shaping Education Modern Families Spotlight 
Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI)
Photo Credit: Children Playing Kite Happiness Bonding Friendship Concept @Shutter Stock

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Can students be overconnected?

By Francesco Avvisati
Analyst, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

In the pursuit of happiness, Aristotle famously wrote “Meson te kai ariston”: moderation, staying away from both excess and deficiency, is best. The past weeks of holiday celebrations reminded many of us how there could be too much of even the good things in life, e.g. too much eating and too much drinking.
Similar advice may apply just as well to young people’s use of the Internet. Most 15-year-olds in OECD countries spend at least some time each day wandering through cyberspace as part of their media diet. As this month’s PISA in Focus reports, in 2012, every day or almost every day, a large majority of 15-year-old students (71%, on average across OECD countries) browsed the Internet for fun, e.g. on video-streaming sites, and participated in an online social network (73%). In most OECD countries, more than one in two students reported spending two hours or more on line every day on weekends.

While spending up to about two hours on line every day is the norm, some students consume Internet services (or video games, particularly if they’re boys) for much longer than this. In fact, for quite a few students, the time spent every day on the Internet does not appear to have many limits – apart from the 24 hours that make up a day. On average, about 7% of students in OECD countries reported spending more than six hours on line every day outside of school – including on schooldays. In the Russian Federation and Sweden, one in eight students so reported.

Children gain access to a host of educational resources and engaging experiences through digital devices and the Internet, but concerns are also mounting about the possible harmful consequences of unrestricted Internet use. Children clearly need to be protected from online threats , such as exposure to harmful content or contacts (think pornography or cyber bullying), online fraud or abusive marketing practices, and privacy-related risks, such as identity theft. Many of these risks existed well before the Internet, but measures to protect children from the corresponding offline threats (such as physical barriers, age-related norms that prevent access to certain spaces, and adult supervision) are difficult to migrate and enforce in a virtual space that is inherently open.
Research has also shown that extended screen time in itself may have negative consequences, e.g. on adolescents sleep,  physical activity and social well-being.

 PISA data confirm a troubling relationship between the time teenagers spend on line outside of school and their sense of belonging at school. Results clearly indicate that extreme Internet users (those who spend six or more hours per day on line during weekdays) are twice as likely as moderate Internet users (those who spend between one and two hours per day on line) to report that they feel lonely at school (14% compared to 7%). Extreme Internet users are also particularly at risk of being less engaged with school and of scoring below their peers in the PISA assessment of mathematics.

While these findings cannot prove cause and effect, they suggest that avoiding excess, when it comes to using technology, is important not just for students’ leisure time, but also for how effective school systems are in promoting students’ learning. A concerted effort by schools and parents can help students to become critical consumers of Internet services and electronic media. Schools can raise awareness about the risks that children face on line and how to avoid them; and parents can help their children to moderate their screen time and balance it with other recreational activities, such as sports and, equally important, sleep.

Links:
Does it matter how much time students spend on line outside of school? PISA in Focus, N.59.
Quelle est l’incidence du temps que les élèves passent en ligne en dehors de l’école ? PISA in loupe No.59 (French Version)
The protection of children online report
Electronic media use and sleep in school-aged children and adolescents: A review
Sleep and use of electronic devices in adolescence: results from a large population-based study
Is spending time in screen-based sedentary behaviors associated with less physical activity: a cross national investigation
Adolescent Screen Time and Attachment to Parents and Peers
Photo credit: wireless man with blue waves over head© Shuttershock

Monday, January 11, 2016

Is the gender gap in higher education widening?

by Dirk Van Damme
Head of the Innovation and Measuring Division, Directorate for Education and Skills


Share of female bachelor’s graduates by field of study (2013)

One of the most remarkable consequences of the expansion of education in OECD countries over the past decades is the reversal of the gender gap in education. From outright exclusion and discrimination in educational institutions less than a century ago, girls and young women have conquered schools and colleges. In 2013, 55% of all students graduating from a general secondary education programme were girls – ten percentage points higher than in 2000. In learning outcomes, girls now largely outperform boys, though not in all subjects. Last year, the OECD published The ABC of Gender Equality in Education: Aptitude, Behaviour, Confidence, the most thorough study yet of gender differences in PISA performance. In reading, the gender gap across countries is equivalent to one year of schooling. However, in mathematics boys still outperform girls in six out of ten countries. Most worrisome is the finding that, across subject fields, 60% of all low performers are boys. Low achievement among boys, often combined with a lack of motivation and behavioural issues, and the prospect of an increasing share of unskilled men entering the labour force in the near future, is now one of the most important challenges education systems need to address.

But does this trend extend to colleges and universities? Surprisingly, the widening gender gap in higher education has raised far less public and political concern than that in secondary education. Yet, the numbers are astonishing. The latest Education Indicators in Focus brief  provides the most recent data available on graduates of bachelor’s programmes. In 2013, six million students across OECD countries graduated from a higher education institution with a bachelor’s degree; 58% of them were women. This percentage ranges from 69% in Sweden to 45% in Japan. Besides Japan, only Germany, Korea, Switzerland and Turkey still have more male than female graduates. So, in terms of graduation rates, the gender gap is as significant in higher education as it is in secondary education. And comparing the female graduation rate of 58% to the fact that 54% of new entrants in bachelor’s programmes are women, women also seem to be more successful than men in completing their studies.

Part of girls’ success in secondary education may be related to hidden biases in assessments and/or the effects of a largely female teaching force. But the absence of these biases in tertiary education suggests that young women’s achievement and success in college has to be attributed to stronger motivation and harder work.

An OECD study  published in 2008 provides a historical perspective, demonstrating that the trend has been going on for some time now. In 1995, equal shares of men and women were enrolled in higher education. Yet in 1998, 54% of the degrees awarded went to women. The reversal of the gender gap has happened over only a few generations: in 2014, 24% of 55-64year-old women had a tertiary degree, compared with 26% of men; but among 25-34year-olds, 46% of women, but only 36% of men, had a bachelor’s degree.

The chart above adds an important dimension to the picture: the gender gap varies across fields of study. The chart compares the shares of female graduates in the STEM fields combined, with the shares of female graduates the fields of education, humanities and social sciences combined. In the latter group, women represent over 60% of all graduates. Around 80% of all graduates in education, health and welfare are women. In contrast, only 31% of the bachelor’s degrees awarded in science and engineering went to women. In Belgium, Chile, Finland, Germany, Japan, Luxembourg, Norway and Switzerland, less than 25% of graduates in science and engineering are women. In contrast, around 40% or more of these graduates in Canada, Italy, Poland, Turkey and in the partner countries Saudi Arabia and South Africa are women. These gender differences in bachelor’s degrees across fields of study resemble the divergent career expectations among 15-year-old students, as recorded by PISA, and the gendered life and career choices later on. They also account for a significant share of the gender gap in earnings from employment.

So the picture for young women is decidedly mixed. Girls and young women are using education – first at secondary, then at tertiary level – as part of a strategy to improve their life chances. Their success in colleges and universities is an important component of their overall greater participation in the economy and society. Yet, huge gender differences in the choices of subjects pursued in higher education, combined with powerful and persistent gender stereotypes in work places and along career paths, prevent women from reaping the full benefits of their higher education.

Links:
Who are the bachelor’s and master’s graduates? Education Indicators in Focus, issue No. 37, by Corinne Heckmann and Camila de Moraes
Les indicateurs de l'éducation à la loupe, issue No. 37 (French version)
Higher Education to 2030, Volume 1, Demography.
The ABC of Gender Equality in Education; Aptitude, Behaviour, Confidence

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

The trends shaping the future of education

by Tracey Burns and Rebecca Lavinson
Directorate for Education and Skills


Did you ever wonder if education has a role to play in stemming the advance of diseases such as diabetes and dementia? Or what the impact of changing family structures might be on our children, schools, and communities? Or whether new technologies are fundamentally changing the way students think and learn?

The OECD's work on Trends Shaping Education looks at major social, demographic, economic and technological trends affecting the future of education. The newest edition of the publication will be released on 18 January . Here’s a sneak peak.

Are cities the new countries? This provocative chapter looks at our increasingly urban lives and the impact this has on education. Across all OECD countries, the percentage of the population living in urban areas has grown from 60% in 1960 to around 80% in 2013. This number is only forecast to increase, with some countries expected to become almost entirely urban by 2050.

Some have argued that cities are now the most relevant level of governance, small enough to react swiftly and responsively to issues and large enough to hold economic and political power. And indeed city life is distinctive, to the extent that cities in two very different countries, such as New York City and Shanghai, will tend to have more in common with each other than with the rural communities in their own country.

Looking for examples? A number of trends stand out: citizens are becoming more engaged in the running of their cities, facilitated by the potential of new technologies and social networks. Examples include Occupy Wall Street, which spread across more than 1,500 cities with the help of social media. Fix My Street, an application which allows residents to use an online map to report street problems and needed repairs, has spread in one form or another to over 16 OECD countries. Similar technologies exist for a wide variety of other services. Are we witnessing the "uberisation" of our economies, a process where the consumer (and citizen) can bypass traditional service providers and have more control over what they want, and when they get it?

Another trend is the rise of smart transportation. Since 1863, when London opened the first metro system, there has been a steady increase numbers and forms of public transportation. There is now an emphasis on services that reduce pollution and increase flexibility, such as electric car and bike-sharing. Launched in Copenhagen in 1995, bike-sharing has since spread to 676 cities worldwide, and there are now more bike-sharing systems than metro systems. Currently, China hosts the largest bike share programme in Hangzhou, Zhejiang, which supplies over 80,000 bikes. This trend illustrates the innovation potential of urban areas, but it also underlines the importance of reducing pollution to sustain liveable environments.

Education can and does play a role in all of this, teaching civic literacy, providing the skills needed for community engagement, and supporting creativity and innovation throughout the lifespan. Designing liveable urban spaces and encouraging smart transport in increasingly dense cities will require urban planners and engineers, as well as the research and innovation hubs needed to fuel their work. And of course schools will continue to be responsible for ensuring the safety of students, especially those in the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods. Education can and should be prepared to adjust and grow along with urban environments. The lessons students are taught in school will carry forward into their communities, giving schools and universities a direct path to positively impact their immediate surroundings.

Urbanisation is a topic that links global, national, city and family levels trends together alongside technology. How can technological developments facilitate citizen engagement? How do cities encourage international cooperation? What role should education play in these arenas?
Want to know more? Then keep an eye out for the soon to be released 2016 edition of Trends Shaping Education. In addition to cities, other chapters examine global trends such as increasing migration and climate change, national trends on government spending in health and pensions, familial trends of child well-being as well as technological trends. Ultimately, we would like the users of this publication to come away asking “How might this trend influence education, now or in the next 10 years?” The future of our education systems depends on it.

Links:
Trends Shaping Education 2016
Trends Shaping Education Urban Spotlight
Governing the City (2015)
Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI)
Photo credit: Trends Fashion Marketing Contemporary Trending Concept @Shutterstock 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Backpacks and belonging: What school can mean to immigrant students

by Marilyn Achiron 
Editor, Education and Skills Directorate


How school systems respond to immigration has an enormous impact on the economic and social well-being of all members of the communities they serve, whether they have an immigrant background or not. Immigrant Students at School: Easing the Journey towards Integration reveals some of the difficulties immigrant students encounter – and some of the contributions they offer – as they settle into their new communities and new schools.

Results from the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) indicate that students with an immigrant background tend to perform worse in school than students without an immigrant background. Several factors are associated with this disparity, including the concentration of disadvantage in the schools immigrant students attend, language barriers and certain school policies, like grade repetition and tracking, that can hinder immigrant students’ progress through school.

But successful integration is measured in more than academic achievement; immigrant students’ well-being and hopes for the future are just as telling. This report examines not only immigrant students’ aspirations and sense of belonging at school, but also recent trends in Europeans’ receptiveness to welcoming immigrants into their own countries – the context that could make all the difference in how well immigrant students integrate into their new communities. The report includes a special section on refugees and education, and an extensive discussion on education policy responses to immigration.

Links:

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A watershed for Scottish education

by David Istance 
Senior Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills

This is a watershed moment for Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence, say some of the country’s education stakeholders. They’re talking about the ambitious education reforms that were rolled out in Scotland’s schools five years ago. What better time for a review of the reforms? Improving Schools in Scotland: An OECD Perspective, published today, provides just that.

So what kind of watershed has Scotland’s education reform programme reached?

First, the programme is at a “watershed” as a statement of fact: the main curriculum programme has now been implemented, and the overhaul of teachers’ education and qualifications is nearly complete. This is watershed meaning “key transition moment”.

Second, it can be seen as a “watershed” as so much of the hard work of redesign has been accomplished and essential building blocks have been put in place. This is about unleashing the full potential of the Curriculum for Excellence after a 13-year gestation period. Hence the very positive sense of watershed as “take-off point”.

But “watershed” may mean something altogether less inspiring: concerns over achievement levels and rumblings over the new teachers’ qualifications combined with a febrile political environment might yet unpick key elements of the Curriculum for Excellence despite its longevity. This would be the more ominous meaning of watershed as “make-or-break moment”.

The recommendations contained in this new review might influence which kind of watershed this turns out to be for the Curriculum for Excellence: will it be key transition moment, take-off point, or make-or-break moment?

The OECD report notches up many points to admire in Scottish schooling, not least among them enviable levels of consensus, clear enthusiasm (including among young people for learning), and political patience. But for the full potential to be realised, the OECD review team believes some key changes will be needed.

There should be a more ambitious theory of change and a more robust evidence base available right across the system, especially about learning outcomes and progress. The Curriculum for Excellence needs to be understood less as a curriculum programme to be managed from the centre and more as a dynamic, highly equitable curriculum being built continuously in schools, networks and communities. And the success of that implementation process needs to be closely evaluated.

There is a key role for a strengthened “middle”, covering local authorities, networks and collaboratives of schools, teachers and communities, and teachers’ and head teachers’ associations. As local authorities assume more prominent system leadership in a reinforced “middle”, the shortcomings of those authorities falling behind in performance and expertise will need to be addressed. Learner engagement is a prerequisite of powerful learning and improved outcomes, and that argues for innovating learning environments, especially in secondary schools, beginning in the most deprived areas.

All this should contribute to creating a new narrative for the Curriculum for Excellence, the OECD review report argues, and this will be an essential ingredient if the existing watershed moment is to become “take-off point”.

Links:
Improving Schools in Scotland: An OECD Perspective
Photo credit: Education Scotland

Friday, December 11, 2015

Learning about learning assessments

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills
Claudia Costin
Senior Director, Education Global Practice, World Bank 

How do large-scale student assessments, like PISA, actually work? What are the key ingredients that are necessary to produce a reliable, policy relevant assessment of what children and young people know and can do with what they know? A new report commissioned by the OECD and the World Bank offers a behind-the-scenes look at how some of the largest of these assessments are developed and implemented, particularly in developing countries.

A Review of International Large-Scale Assessments in Education: Assessing Component Skills and Collecting Contextual Data provides an overview of the main international, regional, national and household-based large-scale assessments of learning. The report shows how the major large-scale assessments have several things in common that contribute to their reliability and relevance. For example, they each produce clear frameworks to describe the philosophy, content, test design and response styles of their tests. These frameworks not only guide the creation of items (questions or tasks in a test paper) for the test, but also act as a way of communicating information about the assessment to the broader community.

The mode of delivery for most of the large-scale assessments is paper and pencil, but there is a shift towards computer-based assessment and this will undoubtedly be the main mode of delivery in the future as it increases efficiency and reduces data error. All of the assessments covered by the report collect contextual information that can be related to the test scores and help to inform policy choices. The reviewed surveys devote considerable time and resources to coder training and coding itself –this is the process of marking students’ responses with codes once tests are complete, including the steps taken to confirm that coding is being undertaken with acceptable reliability. In one or two cases, methods and approaches have been developed to include out-of-school children in learning assessments.

The report gives particular emphasis to learning from large-scale assessments in developing countries and makes recommendations in the following areas for the benefit of the OECD’s PISA for Development project: assessment frameworks; scoring; modes of delivery; collection of contextual information; methods and approaches to include out-of-school children in learning assessments; and analysis, reporting and use of the data collected.

The report also reveals some little known facts about the major large-scale assessments. Did you know that an assessment used in French-speaking mainly African countries uses questionnaires to collect information on whether students are working outside of school? Analysis of the results helps countries to determine whether working hinders students’ learning. And did you know that a large-scale assessment in Latin America routinely collects information on food, transportation, medical and clothing programmes and relates the data to student test scores? Or that a regional assessment in southern and eastern Africa finds that the active involvement of relevant government staff in research is one of the most important factors in converting analysis of the results of assessments into policies and changed practice?

Initially commissioned to provide recommendations for designing the PISA for Development project, the report is a valuable reference for policymakers, development organisations and other stakeholders with an interest in developing or participating in large-scale learning assessments.

Links: 
A Review of International Large-Scale Assessments in Education: Assessing Component Skills and Collecting Contextual Data
The Experience of Middle-Income Countries Participating in PISA 2000-2015
Towards the development of contextual questionnaires for the PISA for development study
PISA for Development Technical Strand C: Incorporating out-of-school 15-year-olds in the assessment
PISA in Low and Middle Income Countries
For more on PISA for Development, visit: www.oecd.org/pisa/aboutpisa/pisafordevelopment.htm
Photo credit: © epicurean / iStockphoto

Thursday, December 10, 2015

What students don’t want to be when they grow up

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Education and Skills Directorate

Who wants to be a teacher? As this month’s PISA in Focus shows, in many countries the teaching profession is having a hard time making itself an attractive career choice – particularly among boys and among the highest-performing students.

PISA 2006 asked students from the 60 participating countries and economies what occupation they expected to be working in when they are 30 years old. Some 44% of 15-year-olds in OECD countries reported that they expect to work in high-status occupations that generally require a university degree; but only 5% of those students reported that they expect to work as teachers, one of those professional careers.

The numbers are even more revealing when considering the profile of the students who reported that they expect to work as teachers. If you read our report on gender equality in education published earlier this year, you may remember that girls tend to favour “nurturance-oriented” careers more than boys do – and teaching is one of those careers. In almost every OECD country, more girls (6%) than boys (3%) reported that they expect to work as teachers. This statistic is particularly worrying when you recall that the majority of overall low achievers in school are boys, who could benefit from the presence of more male role models at school.

PISA in Focus also reveals that the highest-performing students in reading and mathematics do not necessarily aim to become teachers. For example, in Argentina, Australia, Israel, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal and Turkey, students who aspire to become teachers score significantly lower in reading and mathematics than students who expect to work in professions other than teaching.

While PISA can’t follow these students into adulthood, the Survey of Adult Skills, a product of the OECD Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) gathers information on the literacy, numeracy and problem-solving skills of adults. The 2012 survey found that, in many countries, teachers have poorer literacy and, in particular, poorer numeracy skills than individuals who work in other professions. In Japan, however, not only do teachers have the highest numeracy skills among teachers working in all other countries that participated in the survey, they are also as proficient in numeracy as Japanese adults who work in other professions.

But maybe in this instance, as in so many others, it would be wise to “follow the money”. According to Education at a Glance, teachers earn significantly less, on average, than similar educated workers in other fields earn. For example, lower secondary teachers earn 86% and upper secondary teachers earn 91% of what tertiary-educated full-time workers in other fields earn. Which is not to say that students are only concerned about the size of their prospective bank accounts; in fact, many 15-year-olds probably don’t know how much their teachers earn. But pay is often a reflection of how socially valued different jobs are. Adolescents might be more inclined to aspire to become teachers if they see that their own teachers are highly valued members of society.

Photo credit: Question mark on green blackboard / chalkboard. Nice chalk and texture @Shutterstock

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Opening up to Open Educational Resources

by Dirk Van Damme
Head of the Innovation and Measuring division, Directorate for Education and Skills

Technology has a profound impact on our lives. A few days ago, an inmate who spent 44 years
behind bars was released from prison and could not believe what he saw on the streets: people with wires in their ears using strange devices to talk to invisible friends. Maybe his confrontation with the modern world would have been less of a surprise if he had visited a school first.

Technology has indeed entered the classroom; but it has not yet changed the ways we teach and learn to the same extent that it has transformed our way of communicating in the outside world. In our private lives we freely share experiences, thoughts and feelings with friends all over the world; but in classrooms we tend to stick to the traditional carriers of knowledge – textbooks, which are certified for use by the bureaucracy and well-aligned to a prescribed curriculum.

But maybe this is about to change. Technology could give education access to the nearly unlimited teaching and learning materials available on the Internet, which are often in much nicer and pedagogically better-designed formats than can be developed by individual teachers. “Open Educational Resources”, or OER as we call them, are not new, but we are now seeing a real breakthrough in availability, usability and quality. In 2007, the OECD analysed the emergence of OER in its book, Giving knowledge for Free. A new publication, Open Educational Resources: A Catalyst for Innovation, supported by a generous grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, takes stock of where we are in 2015.

The most immediate benefit of OER is the open (through open licenses) and free (in most cases at no cost) access to quality teaching and learning materials, often in multimedia formats. OER provide an alternative to costly textbooks and, hence, might lead to significant savings for both schools and learners. International organisations, such as UNESCO, and national governments, such as the federal government in the United States, see an enormous opportunity in OER to widen access to high-quality teaching and learning resources in poor countries or among disadvantaged communities of learners.

A few years ago, the development of free and accessible resources was stymied, partly because of some resistance among education publishers and ill-adapted intellectual property regulations. But over the past few years we’ve seen OER mainstreamed into several education systems.

But OER has an even much richer potential. As the title of the new book suggests, OER is also a catalyst for innovation in education. For example, we know from the OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) how important teacher collaboration is for the development of professional practice, efficacy and job satisfaction. We also know how difficult it is to convince teachers to work together, even within the same school. One of the most interesting characteristics of OER is that, if licensed properly, they invite users to continuously improve and update educational resources. OER enables teachers to engage in communities of practice not only for exchanging resources, but also for modifying and developing resources collaboratively. Teachers willing and able to enrich their teaching practices beyond the prescribed curriculum and available textbooks will find OER to be a fantastic way to connect to colleagues all over the world to jointly develop new resources. The OER depositories are full of resources that have been developed by inspired teachers working together.

Some people and organisations fear that technology will lead to the de-skilling and disempowerment of teachers. Yes, there is a risk that the availability of an infinite wealth of information on the Internet may deprive teachers of their authority as being the possessors of knowledge, or that it may engender a laissez-faire attitude among teachers. But the professional responsibility of teachers goes well beyond asking students to look for information in Wikipedia. OER invite teachers to reinvent their professional responsibilities and add to their pedagogical expertise and experience to enable students to turn information and knowledge into real learning.

The potential of OER to catalyse change and innovation in education is not yet well understood by many governments. But that is changing, too. A small survey, the results of which appear in the book, found that most governments are now considering various policies to support the production and use of OER, such as indirectly or directly funding them, developing codes of practice or guidelines for the production or use of OER, launching information campaigns aimed at schools, legislating the use of OER, supporting the development of OER repositories and/or encouraging research into OER. In the end, perhaps OER will be one of the most significant and substantive ways that technology will transform teaching and learning.

Links:
Photo credit: © vege - Fotolia.com

Friday, November 27, 2015

The challenges of widening participation in PISA

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills
Claudia Costin
Senior Director, Education Global Practice, World Bank

Since 2000, the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has been measuring the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students in over 70 countries. PISA does not just examine whether students have learned what they were taught, but also assesses whether students can creatively and critically use what they know.

Of course, such international comparisons are never easy and they aren’t perfect. But they show what is possible in education, they help governments to see themselves in comparison to the education opportunities and results delivered by other education systems, and they help governments to build effective policies and partnerships for improving learning outcomes.

But as the number of countries joining PISA kept rising, it became apparent that the design and implementation models for PISA needed to evolve to successfully cater to a larger and more diverse set of countries, including a growing number of middle-income and low-income countries who want to participate in the assessment.

In response to these challenges, the OECD and the World Bank just released a report titled The Experience of Middle-Income Countries Participating in PISA 2000-2015, which provides valuable lessons and insights based on the experiences of more than 40 PISA-participating countries. It establishes a strong rationale and foundation for enhancing PISA to make it more relevant to a wider range of countries. It also provides insights for the World Bank and other development partners on how to better support countries to participate in these exercises and to analyse and use the data in effective ways.

The report shows that while demand for participation in PISA among middle-income countries is increasing, these countries face both financial and technical obstacles to participating, including the need to translate and manage the assessment, and code student responses. The report also shows that the political, regulatory, and cultural environment of these countries can also affect whether, and how easily, the assessment can be conducted.

To maximize the benefits of participating in PISA, the report recommends that the OECD take five actions:

  1. Adjust the PISA test instruments to better measure differences between the highest- and lowest-performing students and, in particular, distinguish performance differences at the lowest levels of proficiency;
  2. Revise the contextual questionnaires so they are more relevant to low-income country contexts and policy issues;
  3. Evaluate the impact of PISA participation on middle-income countries’ capacity to conduct international assessments; 
  4. Tackle financial and technical challenges through partnerships with donors and through capacity building; and
  5. Extend outreach to local stakeholders in these countries.

Action is already being taken on these recommendations through the PISA for Development initiative. This project is already working to enhance the PISA instruments and will undertake field trials in seven developing countries during 2016. The final results of PISA for Development, which are expected in 2018, will provide local policy makers with new evidence to diagnose shortcomings in their education systems and inform new policies. In the meantime, the PISA for Development countries will benefit from peer-to-peer exchanges with other members of the PISA global community. The enhanced PISA instruments will be made available to all countries for the 2021 cycle of the assessment.

The OECD remains committed to working with the World Bank and other partners in maintaining and developing PISA as a global yardstick for measuring success in education. This is especially relevant in the context of the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals as PISA provides valuable information about the level and distribution of quality and equity within a country’s education system.

Together, we will continue to contribute our expertise and platforms to encourage international collaboration on education through the PISA surveys, and to assist policymakers and practitioners throughout the world to use them more productively. 

Links:

Thursday, November 26, 2015

How can we compare education systems that are so different?

by Dirk Van Damme
Head of the Innovation and Measuring division, Directorate for Education and Skills

Comparison of levels of education between ISCED 2011 and ISCED-97

Imagine three families accidentally meeting in a bar of a hotel in a sunny tourist location. They start discussing the schooling of their children and their professional futures. One Danish couple has young children aged 11 and 14, both attending the ‘Basic School’. The Dutch couple thinks that the oldest son probably has not performed well in school because he seems to have been repeating some grades in primary school. Their own daughter is around 25 and is following a short programme at an institution of higher education, which the parents describe as an “associate degree”. The third couple, French, assumes that, given the girl’s age, this must be a kind of specialisation following the license. Their own son has a license, which the Danish and Dutch couples interpret as a master’s degree. The schooling of their respective children is clearly a sensitive topic, because none of the three couples wants to enter into much detail: they’re afraid that the other couples would not fully appreciate the prestige and status of their child’s educational career. The result is confusion.

This is akin to what happened many years ago when education experts and policy makers started to meet and discuss education policies. A Babylonian confusion of terminology – with words only comprehensible to the citizens of a given country but incomprehensible to foreigners – made any reasonable discussion nearly impossible. In many cases, even experts did not understand that “Basic School” in Denmark covers the first nine grades, or that a Dutch “associate degree” is a short vocational programme of post-secondary but non-tertiary education that people sometimes pursue after some years of work experience, or that a French license is equivalent to a bachelor’s, not a master’s, degree.

People quickly started to realise that if ever international collaboration in education were successful, they needed instruments to make their systems comparable – instruments that could translate the peculiarities of their own systems into a universally understandable “language”. Especially when pioneers started to collect statistical data on education systems, such tools became absolutely indispensable.

The first edition of the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) was developed by UNESCO in the mid-1970s. It was quickly adopted by other international organisations, such as the OECD, the World Bank and Eurostat. The classification was first revised by UNESCO, OECD and EUROSTAT in 1997 (ISCED-97), and then again between 2009 and 2011 to create ISCED 2011, adopted in November 2011. The 2015 edition of Education at a Glance is the first major collection of data using the new classification. ISCED is the reference framework for classifying and comparing educational programmes and their “levels” – the tool to make systems transparent and comprehensible across countries.

Of course, classifying education programmes is a sensitive topic. Not only families but also countries attach prestige and status to education programmes and the institutions that deliver them. This is what makes mapping such programmes so difficult. But using ISCED is also an activity of international understanding and peer learning. Mapping and classifying programmes is not something done by bureaucrats behind their desks in international organisations, but by peers from countries working together. In a global international labour market, where credentials define access to jobs, earnings and social status, it makes a difference how specific programmes are classified.

Education systems are not static; they change. There have been some important changes at both ends of the education ladder recently: in early childhood or
“pre-primary” education, at one end, and in tertiary or higher education at the other. It is precisely in these two areas that the most recent revision makes the greatest difference. The instrument now has a precise classification for early learning, which has become so important politically. And in higher education, there has been general adoption of the bachelor’s/master’s model.

Probably the families at the bar will not resume their discussion by referring to ISCED levels. But at least among experts, developers and users of educational statistics and indicators, the use of the new ISCED is a tremendously important step forward. If educators and policy makers want to understand each other and learn from each other, a common language is necessary. ISCED 2011 provides them with the tool to understand the various levels of education.

Links:
ISCED 2011 Operational Manual: Guidelines for Classifying National Education Programmes and Related Qualifications
Education at a Glance 2015: OECD Indicators

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Got a question about education? Education at a Glance probably has the answer

by Andreas Schleicher  
Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills 


Does education really pay off? Has public spending on education been affected by the economic crisis? How are education and employment related?

You’ll find the answers to these and just about any other question you may have about the state of education in the world today in Education at a Glance 2015: OECD Indicators, published today. Did you know, for example, that
tertiary-educated adults earn about 60% more, on average, than adults with upper secondary as their highest level of educational attainment? Or that between 2010 and 2012, as countries’ GDP began to rise following the economic slowdown, public expenditure on education fell in more than one in three OECD countries?

This year’s edition of the annual compendium of education statistics includes more than 100 charts, 150 tables and links to another 150 tables on line. It also contains more detailed analyses of participation in early childhood and tertiary levels of education; data on the impact of skills on employment and earnings, gender differences in education and employment; educational and social mobility; adults’ ability and readiness to use information and communication technologies; how education is financed; and information on teachers, from their salaries and hours spent teaching to information on recess and breaks during the school day.

We invite you to take a good long look – and learn.

Links:
Press release
Education at a Glance 2015: OECD Indicators
Regards sur l'éducation 2015: Les indicateurs de l'OCDE

Follow #OECDEAG on Twitter: @OECDEduSkills
Photo credit: ©OECD 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Are American students overtested? Listen to what students themselves say

by Andreas Schleicher 
Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills 

One of the claims one hears frequently these days is that American students have no time for learning because they are permanently subjected to standardised testing, while Finnish students, in turn, live in that paradise where high learning outcomes are achieved by everyone without any testing.

It is actually very hard to find comparative data on the prevalence of testing in OECD countries. So to explore this, we asked the principals of 15-year-old students who participated in the  PISA assessment how frequently their students take part in standardised tests. And over the years I have learned to trust the reports of students and principals on what actually happens in the classroom more than the claims of many experts

Here is what I found: 34% of 15-year-olds in the Netherlands said they take a standardised test at least once a month, 21% of students in Israel said so, and on average across OECD countries 8% of students so reported. In the United States, only 2% of students said they took standardised tests at least once a month. By the way, that turns out to be exactly the same share as in Finland.

Some 97% of American 15-year-olds said they took a standardised test at least once or twice a year, again about the same share as in Finland. Across OECD countries, an average of 76% of students so reported. Some 40% of American
15-year-olds took such tests at least three to five times a year, compared with 16% in Finland and 17% on average across countries. Interestingly, on some other forms of assessments, like student portfolios, Finland comes out far ahead of the United States.

Now, some will say these data are from 2009 and things might have changed since then. But we asked the same question again in the 2015 PISA assessment; those results will be disclosed next year. So watch this space.

Links:
Photo credit: Students sitting tests @Shutterstock