Friday, April 22, 2016

Going grey, staying skilled

by Marco Paccagnella
Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills, OECD

The population is “greying” in most advanced countries as well as in some developing countries. Many governments are struggling to address the challenges resulting from this demographic transition, from rising costs of healthcare, to worries about the sustainability of pension systems.

Increased life expectancy represents one of the great achievements of modern societies: living longer and better has been a dream of past generations. At the same time, it implies changes to many aspects of life. To finance retirement incomes and aged care, many governments have reformed their pension provisions and are asking individuals to work longer for less-generous pensions and to contribute more to the costs of care. When such reforms are passed during times of sluggish economic growth and rising unemployment, they tend to create discontent not only among older workers (who may long to retire), but also among younger adults, who may feel that delaying the retirement of older workers reduces their opportunities. At the same time, older workers may feel threatened by the increasingly rapid pace of technological change, and fear that they will not be able to find a new job, should they be laid off in a highly competitive labour market.

Managing these issues is extremely complex, given the interests involved and the interaction between different areas of social and economic policy. Yet, there is little doubt that skills development will play a central role in solving the puzzle. A big question is whether, and to what extent, skills decline with age. Is it true that older workers are less skilled, and therefore less productive than younger workers? If that’s the case, how can we make sure that people maintain a sufficiently high level of skills proficiency over an increasingly long horizon?

New evidence from the OECD Survey of Adult Skills and examined in the most recent issue of Adult Skills in Focus is extremely relevant to this debate. It provides an accurate picture of the cognitive skills of adults in a wide range of countries, and links such skills to important economic and non-economic outcomes, such as employment, wages, and health status.

The data suggest that proficiency in skills such as literacy and numeracy declines with age, although slowly, and not much. More important, there is considerable variation across countries in the extent and size of differences in skills proficiency related to age, suggesting that policies can play an important role in shaping the evolution of skills over a lifetime. Yet while skills decline with age, wages and employment rates typically do not. This could suggest that older workers are overpaid, given their productivity. If that were the case, older workers would be justified in fearing they are more likely to be dismissed, and that they would have a hard time finding a new job if they were. But productivity is a complex concept, and the cognitive skills measured in the Survey of Adult Skills constitute only a fraction of the skills portfolio that employers reward. With experience, workers are likely to develop an entire range of other skills that are much more difficult to measure than literacy or numeracy, but that are equally, if not more, valuable to employers.

This is not to downplay the importance of cognitive skills. The data also show that proficiency in literacy influences the wages and likelihood of employment among older workers more than it does among younger workers.

What can be actually done to sustain the skills of people as they age? As usual, prevention is better than cure. Improving the quality of education, i.e. ensuring that people leave formal education with the highest possible level of literacy and numeracy proficiency, is likely to yield large benefits, more than simply increasing the time spent in education. Starting working life with high skills increases the chances of entering the virtuous circle in which skills provide access to the opportunities, such as good jobs and training that further develop skills.

Training is clearly important, but targeting access is probably even more important. The overall rate of participation in training appears to have little relationship to the size of differences in literacy proficiency between the young and the old. Countries with large differences in literacy proficiency between younger and older adults tend to be countries in which training is disproportionately taken up by young adults.

As other recent research show, retirement appears to accelerate the loss of cognitive skills. This suggests that policies to delay retirement may benefit the cognitive skills of existing workers, but also that policies to encourage older people to remain engaged are important for those who have left the workforce.

The bad news is that cognitive skills inevitably decline with age. The good news is that this is only part of the story. There is large scope to shape the evolution of skills over a lifetime; and cognitive skills, while important, are not the only determinant of people’s success in life.

What does age have to do with skills proficiency? Adult Skills in focus, issue No.3 by Marco Paccagnella
Age, Ageing and Skills: Results from the OECD Survey of Adult Skills
Photo Credit: © OECD

How well are teachers doing in solving problems using ICT?

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

If one were to ask ministers of education what they consider to be the most important factor determining the quality of their education systems, the odds are high that they would refer to the quality of the teaching work force. The saying goes that the quality of an education system can never exceed that of its teachers. Ensuring that the most talented candidates are attracted to the teaching profession is now widely recognised to be the most effective strategy to improve education.

But how does one assess how teachers compare to the rest of the working population? We still lack reliable, robust and comparable measures of some of the essential elements of teachers’ knowledge and skills. A new tool developed by the OECD Centre for Educational Research and Innovation, known as the Innovative Teaching for Effective Learning (ITEL) assessment, focuses on teachers’ pedagogical knowledge. It will provide comparative measures of some core elements of the knowledge and skills that we expect from teachers. In the meantime, the results of the Survey of Adult Skills, a product of the OECD Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), provide some insights into the skills of countries’ workforces – including teachers – in key areas, such as numeracy, literacy and problem solving. These data make it possible to compare the skills of teachers with those of other college and university graduates and with the working population as a whole.

A recent OECD report, prepared for the International Summit on the Teaching Profession, held earlier this year in Berlin, found that teachers’ skills in numeracy tend to be similar to those of other tertiary-educated professionals. The Survey of Adult Skills also assessed adults’ proficiency in problem-solving in technology-rich environments. The most recent Education Indicators in Focus brief compares teachers’ ICT and problem-solving skills with those of the working population as a whole and with other tertiary-educated professionals. The chart above confirms that, as with numeracy skills, teachers’ problem-solving skills using ICT more or less match those of other tertiary-educated professionals. On average, 51% of teachers, compared to 31% of the adult population as a whole, demonstrated good problem-solving and ICT skills (proficiency was characterised as “good” when adults demonstrated a high level of problem-solving competence and at least a basic level of ICT skills). But on average, the share of other tertiary-educated professionals who demonstrated “good” ICT skills was 3 percentage points larger than that of teachers. In only four countries/subnational entities (Canada, England/Northern Ireland, Japan and Korea) did teachers outperform their tertiary-educated peers. In many other countries and subnational entities (Denmark, Estonia, Flanders [Belgium], Ireland and Poland) teachers’ problem-solving and ICT skills were significantly weaker than those of other tertiary-educated professionals.

Age could be part of the explanation. After accounting for age, teachers are 4 percentage points more likely than other tertiary-educated adults to have good problem-solving skills using ICT. This finding reinforces the conclusion, consistently noted in Education at a Glance, that policy makers need to take seriously the implications of an ageing teaching force.

When only one in two teachers – and, in several countries, even fewer – are capable of solving problems using ICT, then it is not unreasonable to question their capacity to address complex issues in their professional environment. For example, if teachers lack these skills, they cannot be expected to move away from a routine-based professional practice, controlled by bureaucratic procedures, to a much more autonomous professional culture. And the use of technology to improve teaching and learning environments will depend on teachers’ skills to use ICT creatively and to its fullest potential.

The recent sobering findings from PISA about the role of computers in improving learning outcomes might be partly attributed to a lack of excellence in ICT skills among teachers. But the age gradient in problem-solving and ICT skills is also good news: younger generations of teachers seem to be closing the skills gap. New generations of teachers who are better trained and who participate in professional development activities throughout their careers will probably be able to adopt innovative practices that are more suited to 21st-century learning environments. Governments should not blame older teachers for having poor problem-solving and ICT skills; equally, they cannot afford to miss the opportunity to fill the teaching posts left vacant by retirees with younger, more tech-savvy problem solvers.

Teachers’ ICT and problem-solving skills: Competencies and needs. Education Indicators in Focus, issue No.40, by Elian Bogers, Gabriele Marconi and Simon Normandeau.
Compétences en TIC et en résolution de problèmes : où en sont les enseignants ? Les indicateurs de l'éducation à la loupe issue No. 40 (French version)
Innovative Teaching for Effective Learning - Teacher Knowledge Survey
Teaching Excellence through Professional Learning and Policy Reform
Education at a Glance 2015: OECD Indicators
Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection
Chart source: OECD Education database,

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Colombia’s moment of truth

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills

Colombia now has an historic opportunity to end one of the world’s longest-running armed conflicts. Will the country be able to seize this chance and realise its huge economic, social and cultural potential? That depends on nothing more than on what happens in Colombia’s classrooms.

Education is the foundation for lasting peace; and, as a new OECD report, Education in Colombia, shows, over the past 15 years, Colombia’s education system has undergone an extraordinary transformation.

Enrolments in both early childhood education and tertiary education have more than doubled over the period and school life expectancy has jumped by two years. Not only that, but Colombia has been one of the very few countries in the world that were able to enroll more children and raise the quality of learning outcomes at the same time. In fact, Colombia was among the top four countries to show a significant improvement in reading in the 2012 OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

But as Colombia enters the global economy, its educational success will not just be about improvement by national standards, but about how Colombian children match up to children around the world. For a start, Colombia needs ambitious common learning standards that hold for all students across the country and that set high expectations for all students regardless of their socio-economic background, the place where they live or the school they attend. According to PISA results, 15-year-old students in Colombia are still about three years behind their peers in OECD countries. Developing these standards would give the country a chance to define the knowledge, skills and values needed in a new, inclusive Colombia.

Second, all children should have access to education from the youngest age. The deep inequities observed in access to tertiary education – 9% of students from the poorest families are enrolled in university-level education, compared to 53% of students from the wealthiest families – begin before children start school. Prioritising access to early childhood education for the most disadvantaged children and ensuring that all children start school by the age of five are two of the most effective ways Colombia can bridge this opportunity gap.

Third, teachers need to be empowered to lead this transformation; but that can only happen when they know what is expected of them – and get the support they need to teach effectively. For example, some 41% of 15-year-old students in Colombia have repeated at least one grade; yet PISA results have shown that grade repetition is not only ineffective, but it demotivates students and is costly to the system. Teachers in top-performing countries embrace high professional standards and work together to give each other feedback and support to improve their teaching practices. Professional autonomy in a collaborative culture, in turn, creates the conditions that are most conducive to student learning.

Fourth, investments in education will yield the greatest return if students leave education equipped with the skills that the economy and society needs. This requires cross-government collaboration to define clear education trajectories and qualifications, help students make informed choices about their careers and build effective partnerships with future employers to expand training opportunities. Such reforms must be a priority in rural areas, where stronger links between education and work will be the linchpin for development.

None of these next steps is easy, quick or inexpensive; but only with them, and with a clear and shared vision for the future of its education system, will Colombia be able to reap all the benefits of a hard-won peace.

Press release: Colombia should improve equity and quality of education
Reviews of National Policies for Education: Education in Colombia
Colombia Highlights
PISA 2012 Results
A silent revolution in Colombia, by Andreas Schleicher
Photo Credit: @Mineducacion

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Making literacy everybody’s business

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills

While poor literacy skills severely limit people’s access to better-paying and more rewarding jobs, data from the OECD Survey of Adult Skills also shows that individuals with poor literacy skills are far more likely than those with advanced literacy skills to report poor health, to believe that they have little impact on political processes, and not to participate in associative or volunteer activities.

Ensuring that all people have solid foundation skills has become one of the central aims of the post-2015 development agenda. This is not just about providing more people with more years of schooling; in fact, that’s only the first step. It is most critically about making sure that individuals acquire solid knowledge in key disciplines, that they develop creative, critical thinking and collaborative skills, and that they build character attributes, such as mindfulness, curiosity, courage and resilience. All of that builds on literacy. Leaders for Literacy Day is a good time to remind ourselves where we stand and how much more progress is needed.

Among 80 countries with comparable data, Ghana has the lowest enrolment rate in secondary schools (46%) and also the lowest achievement levels among those 15-year-olds who are in school (291 PISA points, on average). While it is difficult for Ghana to meet the goal of universal basic skills for its 15-year-olds any time soon, if it did, it would see a gain over the lifetime of children born today that, in present value terms, is 38 times its current GDP. This is equivalent of tripling Ghana’s discounted future GDP every four years during the working life of those students with improved skills.

One might be tempted to think that high-income countries have all the means to eliminate extreme underperformance in education; but the data show otherwise. For example, 24% of 15-year-olds in the United States cannot complete even basic Level 1 PISA tasks. The fact that the 10% most disadvantaged children in Shanghai outperform the 10% most advantaged children in parts of Europe and the United States reminds us that poverty isn’t destiny. If the United States were to ensure that all of its students meet the goal of universal basic skills, the economic gains could reach over USD 27 trillion in additional income for the American economy over the working life of these students.

But can countries really improve their populations’ literacy quickly? PISA shows that top performers in education, such as Hong Kong and Shanghai in China, and Singapore, were able to further extend their lead in literacy skills over the past few years; and countries like Peru, Qatar, Tunisia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates achieved major improvements from previously low levels of literacy performance. Even those who claim that student performance mainly reflects social and cultural factors must concede that improvements in education are possible. A culture of education isn’t just inherited, it is created by what we do.

So what we can learn from the world’s education leaders? The first lesson from PISA is that the leaders in high-performing school systems seem to have convinced their citizens to make choices that value education more than other things. Chinese parents and grandparents tend to invest their last renminbi in their children’s education. By contrast, in much of Europe and North America, governments have started to borrow the money of their children to finance their consumption today. The debt they have incurred puts a brake on economic and social progress.

But valuing education is just part of the equation. Another part is believing in the success of every child. Top school systems expect every child to achieve and accept no excuse for failure. They realise that ordinary students have extraordinary talents, and they embrace diversity with differentiated instructional practices.

And nowhere does the quality of a school system exceed the quality of its teachers. Top school systems pay attention to how they select and train their staff. They attract the right talent and they work to improve the performance of struggling teachers.

High performers have also adopted professional forms of work organisation in their schools. They encourage their teachers to use innovative pedagogies, improve their own performance and that of their colleagues, and work together to define good practice. They grow and distribute leadership throughout the school system.

Perhaps most impressive, school systems as diverse as those in Finland and Shanghai attract the strongest principals to the toughest schools and the most talented teachers to the most challenging classrooms so that every student benefits from excellent teaching and school leadership.

But it is far too easy to assign the task of improving literacy skills just to schools. When formal schooling begins, many parents believe that their role as educators has ended. But literacy is a shared responsibility of parents, schools, teachers and other members of society. Results from PISA offer comfort to parents who are concerned that they don’t have enough time or the requisite academic knowledge to help their children succeed in school. The simple question, “How was school, today?”, asked by parents the world over has as great an impact on children’s literacy skills as  a family’s wealth. PISA results show that reading to children when they are very young is strongly related to how well those children read and how much they enjoy reading later on. In short, many types of parental involvement that are associated with better literacy skills require relatively little time and no specialised knowledge. What counts is genuine interest and active engagement.

Adult Skills in Focus No. 2: What does low proficiency in literacy really mean? by Miloš Kankaraš
Les Compétences des Adultes á la loupe No. 2: Qu’entend-on réellement par faibles compétences en littératie ?
Education Working Paper No. 131: Adults with Low Proficiency in Literacy or Numeracy
OECD Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC)
Universal Basic Skills: What Countries Stand to Gain
Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)
International Literacy Association

Follow: #AgeOfLiteracy 
Photo credit: Pupils in classroom at the elementary school @Shutterstock

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Governing complex education systems

by Tracey Burns
Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills, OECD

Florian Koester
Consultant, Directorate for Education and Skills, OECD

What models of governance are effective in complex education systems? How can governments set priorities and design polices that balance responsiveness to local diversity with national education goals? And how do we ensure that there is trust, co-operation and communication between the multiple levels and actors in the system?

These are tough questions. Just published, Governing Education in a Complex World brings together state of the art research and insights from country experience to identify the elements necessary for effective education governance. The book challenges our traditional concepts of education governance through work on complexity, reform and new approaches to collaboration and decision-making. In doing so it sets the agenda for thinking about creating the open, dynamic and strategic approaches necessary for governing complex systems in today’s global world.

Effectively governing education systems is not a simple task. There are no magic solutions, no one-size-fits-all recipe that can be rolled out to guarantee success. Work on complexity theory reveals that a certain level of complexity in a system – whether in an education system or a school – can lead to unpredictable reactions or unexpected consequences to even seemingly simple changes. Modern education governance must be flexible at the same time as it steers a clear course towards established goals. It must also be efficient, limited by given funds and time.

The book identifies key elements to modern education governance. First, savviness and endurance are needed to align multi-level systems and it is vital to engage with a diverse set of actors, including students and parents. In doing so, it’s important to include all stakeholders and voices – not only the ones that shout the loudest – in the governance process to strengthen participatory decision-making. And while new technologies provide the opportunity to engage a broader set of actors, they also bring new challenges: instant feedback can mean that expectations rise faster than performance, and lead to short-term solutions rather than long-term vision. This tends to result in reactive decision-making, where the urgent is prioritised over the important. Staying on track and keeping an eye on the long-term is not easy, but it is key to effective and sustainable governance.

Education systems must also be able to resolve system-wide tensions. For example, countries are under pressure to strengthen their accountability systems while at the same time they encourage innovation.  Ideally, a system would have both a strong and constructive accountability system as well as dynamic innovation processes. However, controlled accountability mechanisms generally seek to minimise risk and mistakes to improve efficiency. At the same time, trial and error are fundamental to the innovation process. Finding the right balance of these two elements (or, perhaps more accurately, the right combination of mutually reinforcing dynamics) is key and will depend on the context and history of the system as well as the ambitions and expectations for its future.

Successful governance also requires thinking about the individuals involved, their needs and their aspirations. Any time a reform is rolled out, we need to think carefully of what is needed on the human level to make it happen. Do teachers (and principals, students and parents) have the capacity to deliver on their new responsibilities? If not, is training or other support in place? This is a simple set of questions, but our work demonstrates that it is often this piece of the puzzle that gets lost in the rush to move forward with a new reform or policy. Yet without the required capacity and support, the best plan risks being derailed at the level where it counts most: the classroom.

So what are the elements of effective modern governance systems? Effective governance:

• focuses on processes, not structures;
• is flexible and can adapt to change and unexpected events;
• works through building capacity, stakeholder involvement and open dialogue;
• requires a whole system approach to align roles and balance tensions;
• harnesses evidence and research to inform policy and practice; and
• is built on trust.

The search for new modes of governance for 21st century education systems will certainly continue in the years to come. Governing Education in a Complex World sets the agenda and challenges us to develop the open, adaptable, and flexible governance systems necessary in a complex world. Just as education must move to evolve and grow with our modern world, so too must the systems that govern them.

Governing Education in a Complex World
OECD Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI)
Find out more on Governing Complex Education Systems (GCES)
Photo credit: ©Juriah/123RF.COM

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

How far from the tree does the leaf fall?

by Antonio Villar
Thomas J. Alexander Fellow & Universidad Pablo de Olavide

High and Low performers in advantaged and disadvantaged students (OECD, PISA 2012 Results)

Equality of opportunity is a lofty ideal, but some societies get closer to achieving it than others. Regarding compulsory education, results from PISA show that socio-economically disadvantaged students in the OECD have much higher chances of being low performers than their socio-economically advantaged peers. And also, that they have much lower chances of being high performers.

PISA provides information on the competences acquired by 15-year-old students in some 65 countries and large economies. Those competences are classified into 6 different levels of proficiency, each one adding new competencies. Students in levels 5 and 6 are considered to be the high performers whereas those below Level 2 are regarded as the low performers. Level 2 is viewed as the baseline level concerning future outcomes in the labour market and social life. PISA also provides rich information on family characteristics of students allowing one to analyse their relationship.

On average, across the OECD, almost 40% of students coming from disadvantaged families do not reach the baseline level of proficiency and less than 5% achieve the highest levels. The opposite is true for students coming from advantaged families: less than 10% do not reach the baseline level, while 25% do achieve the highest levels of proficiency.

In other words, disadvantaged students are four times more likely to have competencies that put them at risk for their future participation in the labour market and society more broadly. In contrast, advantaged students are five times more likely than their disadvantaged peers to enjoy competencies that give them much better chances for the future.

The ratio between low performers in disadvantaged and advantaged students can be regarded as a rough measure of discrimination “from below”, in an educational system. Similarly, the ratio between high performers in advantaged and disadvantaged students can be regarded as a measure of discrimination “from above”.

The degree of discrimination by socio-economic status varies substantially between the OECD countries. Moreover, the type of discrimination, from below or from above, turns out to be very different within countries. In Iceland, Korea and Norway, the results of advantaged and disadvantaged students are much closer than the OECD average, both for high and low performers. That is, those countries are doing much better than the average OECD country regarding equality of opportunity. The opposite happens in the case of Denmark, France, Hungary and Portugal, where both types of discrimination are much higher than the average OECD.

Discrimination from above turns out to be extreme in the cases of Chile and Greece, with values of 62 and 30 times for those students coming from advantaged families. Mexico, Luxembourg, Israel, the Slovak Republic and Turkey also present high values for this type of discrimination. The contrary happens in Canada, Estonia and Finland, where discrimination from above is much smaller than in the OECD. Chile, Greece, Italy, Mexico, Sweden and Turkey, present very low values of discrimination “from below”. The contrary happens for Belgium, Ireland and Poland.

These data show that equality of opportunity in compulsory education is still an issue in the OECD. There are substantial differences between countries, so that the country in which a child is educated matters a lot. Moreover, socio-economic conditions still play a very relevant role in educational achievements. This role is very different among OECD countries both regarding its intensity and in the way it affects high and low performers.

How Bad Is Being Poor for Educational Performance?  A Message from PISA 2012, by Antonio Villar 
OECD Thomas J. Alexander Fellowship: current call for research proposals closes 23 May 2016.
Chart source: © OECD

Friday, March 18, 2016

Learning by heart may not be best for your mind

by Alfonso Echazarra
Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills

PISA 2012 Released Mathematics Item (Proficiency Level 6)
Some of the greatest geniuses had remarkable memories. Mozart, according to legend, sat and listened to Allegri’s “Miserere”, then transcribed the piece of music, entirely from memory, later in the day. Kim Peek, the savant who was the inspiration for the blockbuster film, Rain Man, memorised as many as 12 000 books. But unlike Mozart, who composed more than 600 works during his brief life, Peek was unable to distinguish between the relevant and the irrelevant, or discover hidden meanings and metaphors in the texts he had committed to memory.

What do these stories have to do with learning mathematics? Or, put another way: in light of these stories, how would you encourage students to learn mathematics? By understanding what mathematics concepts, procedures and formulae mean and applying them to a lot of different maths problems set in a lot of different contexts? Or by learning them by heart and applying them to a lot of similar maths problems? Sooner or later, the method matters. Students who avoid making an effort to understand mathematics concepts may succeed in some school environments; but a lack of deep, critical and creative thinking may seriously penalise these students later in life when confronted with real, complex problems. As Albert Einstein provocatively said: “Any fool can know; the point is to understand”.

A similar message is relayed in this month’s PISA in Focus and a new OECD paper on education, “How teachers teach and students learn: Successful strategies for school”. The analyses show that students who mainly use memorisation when they study do well on easy questions. For example, “CHARTS Q1”, a multiple-choice question from the PISA 2012 test, refers to a simple bar chart and is considered one of the easiest questions in the mathematics assessment. Some 87% of students answered this question correctly. Students who reported that they use some type of memorisation strategy when they study mathematics, such as learning by heart, recalling work already done or going through examples again and again, had about the same success rate on this easy item as students who reported using other learning strategies.

But complex problems are a different matter; they require more than a good memory. For the most challenging question from the PISA 2012 mathematics test, “REVOLVING DOOR Q2”, students who reported using mainly memorisation strategies were much less likely than students using other strategies, such as connecting ideas or working out exactly what is important to learn, to answer correctly. Answering “REVOLVING DOOR Q2” correctly requires substantial geometric reasoning and creativity, involves multiple steps, and draws heavily on students’ ability to translate a real situation into a mathematical problem. Only 3% of participants answered this question correctly.

The findings also show that, contrary to received wisdom, East Asian students are not necessarily the ones who use memorisation strategies the most. Memorisation is used almost everywhere, but fewer 15-year-olds in Hong Kong-China, Japan, Korea, Macao-China, Shanghai-China, Chinese Taipei and Viet Nam reported using it than students in, let’s say, English-speaking countries to whom they are often compared. For instance, 5% of students in Viet Nam, 12% of students in Japan and 17% of students in Korea reported that they learn as much as they can by heart when they study mathematics, compared to 26% of students in Canada, 28% in Ireland, 29% in the United States, 35% in Australia and New Zealand, and 37% in the United Kingdom.

In some situations, memorisation is useful, even necessary. It can give students enough concrete facts on which to reflect; it can limit anxiety by reducing mathematics to a set of simple facts, rules and procedures; and it can help to develop fluency with numbers early in a child’s development, before the child is asked to tackle more complex problems. But to perform at the very top, 15-year-olds need to learn mathematics in a more reflective, ambitious and creative way – one that involves exploring alternative ways of finding solutions, making connections, adopting different perspectives and looking for meaning. So yes, you can use your memory; just use it strategically, lest Einstein call you a fool.

PISA in Focus No. 61: Is memorisation a good strategy for learning mathematics? by Alfonso Echazarra
PISA á la loupe No. 61: La mémorisation : Une stratégie payante pour l’apprentissage des mathématiques?
How teachers teach and students learn: Successful strategies for school.
PISA Try the Test: Explore PISA 2012 Mathematics, problem solving and financial literacy test question
Source: PISA 2012 Released Mathematics Items

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Is international academic migration stimulating scientific research and innovation?

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

Higher education and academic research are among the most rapidly globalising systems. Today, around 5 million students study and do research in a country other than their own, attracted by the quality of overseas universities and willing to complement their education portfolio with international experience. Employers generally value the impact international education has on the skills and mind-set of graduates, and see international experience as indispensable for future global leaders.

But in an age when governments are increasingly concerned about rising levels of migration and are making their migration policies more stringent, international student mobility is also being scrutinised. Some countries impose stricter visa requirements or limitations on the time for international students to stay in the country. Others make it more difficult for graduates to stay and work in the country where they have studied. The prospect of losing the economic returns from international students and the income provided by fee-paying students does not seem to dissuade some governments from imposing stricter regulations on international students.

The recent Education Indicators in Focus brief looks in more detail at the international mobility of master’s and doctoral students. The mobility of doctoral students is of special concern because of its relevance to research policy. The chart above illustrates the close relationship between the number of international doctoral students in a country and the country’s commitment to research, as measured by spending on R&D in tertiary education. Countries with a large share of international doctoral students are also countries that invest a lot in research.

The chart does not suggest any causality. In fact, there are two ways to interpret the relationship. Countries with relatively high levels of investment in university research are probably well-integrated in global research networks. International collaboration naturally leads to an exchange of researchers. Favourable research climates, high levels of investment and the prospect of collaborating with researchers working at the cutting edge in their fields offer attractive opportunities for young doctoral researchers.

The global research landscape is diversifying. Next to the academic centres in the United States and the United Kingdom, new strongholds of global academic research are emerging in countries such as Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden. These countries have opened up their universities for international researchers, and now 30%, 40% or even more than 50% of the doctoral students in these countries are of foreign origin.

But it could very well be that the causality also works in the other direction. Higher numbers of international researchers probably contribute to the global competiveness of academic research by strengthening integration in research networks or by facilitating international knowledge transfer. We can find support for this hypothesis in comparing our data on the percentage of international doctoral students with OECD data on the share of publications in the top 10% academic journals. The strong country-level correlation between both sets of data suggests that doctoral students have a positive impact on the quantity and quality of scientific research in the host country. In turn, this could prompt governments to increase their R&D spending on universities. Indirectly, international students then contribute to the innovation process and the development of a research-intensive knowledge economy in the host country.

The case of Switzerland is telling. A small country in the heart of Europe that is now fiercely debating migration policy, Switzerland has opened up its universities to international researchers and doctoral students, while at the same time increasing its R&D investment. Anyone who looks at international rankings has noticed that Switzerland is rising rapidly up the global academic hierarchy. Sweden and the Netherlands are close behind. This is no coincidence.

Current debates about international student mobility tend to overemphasise the benefits for the individual student or the financial returns for the host institution or host country. But it is also important to look into the wider benefits of academic migration. Laboratories and research centres at the frontier of their fields cannot do without strong integration in global networks and without international researchers. Progress in scientific research happens by sharing and confronting ideas, questioning established wisdom and looking at the world from different perspectives. International exchange and mobility of doctoral researchers is absolutely critical to this. Countries that curtail academic mobility risk paying a high price.

The internationalisation of doctoral and master's studies, Education Indicators in Focus, issue No. 39, by Gabriele Marconi.
L’internationalisation des études de doctorat et de master, Les indicateurs de l'éducation à la loupe, issue No. 39 (French Version).

Graph sources: OECD Education Database,, (accessed 21 January 2016), and OECD (2015a), Education at a Glance 2015: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing, Paris,, Table B1.2.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

We can do better on education reform

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills

A generation ago, teachers could expect that what they taught would equip their students with the skills needed for the rest of their lives. Today, teachers need to prepare students for more change than ever before, for jobs that have not yet been created, to use technologies that have not yet been invented, and to solve social problems that we just can’t imagine. And many of the world’s social and economic difficulties end up on the doorsteps of schools too.

So expectations for teachers are high. We expect them to have a deep understanding of what they teach; to be passionate, compassionate and thoughtful; to make learning central and encourage students’ engagement and responsibility; to respond effectively to students of different needs, backgrounds and mother tongues, and to promote tolerance and social cohesion; to provide continual assessments of students and feedback; and to ensure that students feel valued and included and that learning is collaborative. And we expect teachers themselves to collaborate and work in teams, and with other schools and parents, to set common goals, and plan and monitor the attainment of goals collaboratively.

That’s a long list. But it reflects the transition from an industrial work organisation towards a professional work organisation that many sectors of our economies went through a long time ago. People typically define professionalism as the level of autonomy and internal regulation that members of an occupation exercise. So they look to see whether people work mainly through external forces exerting pressure and influence on them, or whether the work is the outcome of advanced skills, internal motivation and the efforts of the members of the profession itself.

As OECD data show, when rated on their knowledge base for teaching, their decision-making power over their work and their opportunities for exchange and support, teachers still have significant challenges ahead of them. Rarely do teachers own their professional standards, and rarely do they work with the level of professional autonomy and in the collaborative work culture that we, in other knowledge-based professions, take for granted.

But our data also show that where teachers teach a class jointly, where they regularly observe other teachers’ classes, and where they take part in collaborative professional learning, they are more satisfied with their careers and feel more effective in their teaching.

It’s time for governments, teachers’ unions and professional bodies to redefine the role of teachers, and to create the support and collaborative work organisation that will help teachers grow in their careers and meet the needs of 21st-century students. And that’s precisely why ministers and union leaders from the world’s most advanced education systems are gathering in Berlin this week at the sixth International Summit on the Teaching Profession.They are well aware that education reform will always be difficult.

Everyone supports education reform – except when it may affect their own children. Everyone has participated in education and has an opinion about it. Reform is difficult to co-ordinate across an education system, and across multiple regional and local jurisdictions. And the fear of loss of privilege is particularly pervasive around education reform, simply because of the extent of vested interests in maintaining the status quo.

The summit will examine plenty of examples of successful reforms around the world that have already improved student learning outcomes. But education systems can and should be doing better. Both the lack of coherence in reform efforts across successive governments and the fact that just one in ten reforms is subject to any kind of evaluation of its impact or efficacy is inexcusable. It shows a lack of respect for both taxpayers and educators at the frontline. At the OECD, we’ve identified six crucial actions needed to make education reform happen.

The first is to strive for consensus about the aims of reform without compromising the drive for improvement. That means acknowledging divergent views and interests. Involving stakeholders cultivates a sense of joint ownership over policies, and helps build consensus on both the need for and the relevance of reform. Regular consultations help to develop trust among all parties, which, in turn, helps to build consensus.

The second lesson is to engage teachers not just in implementing reform but in designing it too. Policy can encourage that through leadership-development strategies that create and sustain learning communities, linking evidence of teachers’ commitment to professional learning to pay, providing seed money for self-learning in and among schools, or through professional self-regulation through processes and organisations that include teachers.

Third, experimenting with policies on a smaller scale first can help build consensus on implementation and, because of their limited scope, can help overcome fears and resistance to change.

Fourth, backing reforms with sustainable financing will always be central. This is not only about money; it’s first and foremost about building professional capacity and support.

Fifth, timing and sequencing are always critical. We need to acknowledge that it is rarely possible to predict clear, identifiable links between policies and outcomes, especially given the lag involved between the time at which the initial cost of reform is incurred, and the time when it is evident whether the intended benefits of reforms actually materialise. Everyone needs to develop realistic expectations about the pace and nature of reform – even in the heat of debate. Time is also needed to learn about and understand the impact of reform measures, build trust and develop the necessary capacity to move on to the next stage of policy development.

Last but not least, success is about building partnerships with education unions. Putting the teaching profession at the heart of education reform requires a fruitful dialogue between governments and unions. At the end of the day, different perspectives and positions are best addressed by strong social partnerships.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Long-term wellbeing of European societies is at stake

By Natália Mazotte
Freelance Journalist, SGI News

Child and youth opportunities

Children and young people are among the biggest losers in the European economic and debt crisis. What do the staggering numbers in youth unemployment and child poverty in Europe mean for the future of this generation – and the continent as a whole?

While Europe continues to struggle to leave the legacy of the financial crisis behind, an entire generation is feeling the effects of the economic fallout most directly. The remarkable increase in youth unemployment since 2008 is perhaps the most disturbing sign of this scenario. In over a dozen European economies, youth unemployment remains today above 20%, and more than one in three unemployed young people have been looking for work for more than a year, according to the Global Employment Trends for Youth.

If you live in Spain or Greece, are between 15 and 24 years of age, and look for work, you are just as likely to be unemployed as to enjoy the privilege of a work contract. The situation does not improve much in other EU countries, where unemployment rates among young people grew from about 15% in 2008, before the crisis, to 22.2% in 2014, affecting 5.3 million young people. 7.5 million Europeans between 15 and 24 are not in employment, education or training. As such, these young people have dropped off the radar of their country’s education, social and labour market systems, as underlined in the OECD 2015 Skills Outlook on Youth, Skills and Employability.

In the crisis-battered southern European countries, life opportunities have declined while the risk of poverty among children and youth has increased since 2007/08, according to the latest EU Social Justice Index of the Bertelsmann Stiftung.

The study contains dramatic numbers, such as 35.8% – more than one third – of children and youth today who are at risk of poverty and social exclusion in Spain. The rate is 31.7% in Portugal. In Greece, it stands at 36.7%, while the share of children living under conditions of severe material deprivation has more than doubled from 9.7% in 2007 to 23.2% in 2014.

Poor labor market and economic deprivation foster mistrust in political institutions

In a study published in 2011, David N. F. Bell and David Blanchflower show that long-term youth inactivity leaves a heritage of reduced lifetime earnings, a large risk of future periods of unemployment and a high likelihood of precarious employment, and it results in poorer health and well-being and lower job satisfaction more than twenty years later.

Additionally, this situation impacts the political scene, where young Europeans appear highly skeptical that those in power are able to address their needs. The shakiness of the labor market and the threat of economic deprivation and social exclusion are all contributing to a growing mistrust of institutionalised politics. Displeasure and frustration are the driving forces behind new forms of political participation, such as Los Indignados, a grassroots protest movement that has grown into the Podemos political party, which won over 20% of the votes in the Spanish general elections last December.

No wonder then that leaders and European institutions consider this one of the most important issues to tackle. In France, where youth unemployment is at a distressing 25.1%, the government recently unveiled new plans, to train young jobseekers and encourage job creation. The same objectives are integrated in the Europe 2020 strategy.

Although the scenario is grim for most EU countries, some of them have managed to go against this trend. Countries such as Germany and the Netherlands remained under 12% youth unemployment in 2015. According to Alain Dehaze, head of the world's largest recruitment company, this is because those countries are better at blending formal education, apprenticeships, work and international experience.

The EU Social Justice Index points out that in Europe as a whole “governments must seek to improve vocational training, reduce the number of early school leavers and improve the transition from the education system to the labor market.“

Poverty is a vicious circle

Whereas young people face hardships transitioning to independence and adulthood in a post-crisis economic context, children are among the biggest losers in countries where the recession has hit hardest.

The most recent Innocenti Report Cards, a UNICEF publication devoted to the living conditions and well-being of children in economically advanced countries, reveals a strong correlation between the extent to which the recession ravaged national economies and the decline in child well-being since 2008.

Some 1.6 million more children were living in severe material deprivation in 2012 (11.1 million) than in 2008 (9.5 million) in 30 European countries. The largest increase in child poverty has been in southern Europe – in Greece, Italy and Spain – as well as in Croatia.

According to the study, children from families who have experienced difficulty remaining in the labor market and satisfying their most basic material and educational needs suffer the stress directly. “Poverty is a self-reinforcing cycle. A child with unemployed parents may do less well at school. Doing less well at school may bring more stress at home. And so on. The longer a child is locked in the cycle, the fewer the possibilities of escape,” the report says.

The EU Social Justice Index does not present a more comforting picture but it highlights some of the ways which can reduce child poverty in Europe: governments should set priorities so that those disadvantaged in society “receive targeted support through a functioning tax and transfer system (e.g., effective child benefit and allowance schemes, housing benefits).” However, “combating poverty is not only a question of monetary support, it also depends on sound policies in other areas, such as education and employment,” the experts warn.

Measures to reverse the deterioration of children’s quality of life are urgently needed to avoid highly disturbing future prospects, not only for this generation, but also for Europe as a whole.

OECD Skills Outlook 2015: Youth, Skills and Employability
Europe 2020 strategy
EU Social Justice Index
UNICEF Innocenti Report Cards
Global Employment Trends for Youth 2015: Youth employment crisis easing but far from over
Graph source: @ BertelsmannStiftung

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

How much time is spent on maths and science in primary education?

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

Compulsory instruction time per subject in primary education, in hours per school day (2015)

Primary school is a fundamental stage in children’s education. Yet it is often neglected in education research and policy debates, somehow squeezed between the seemingly more important stages of early childhood education and secondary education. The purpose of primary education is to build a solid foundation on which an entire life of learning can thrive. Cognitive processes such as working memory, attention, self-regulation, as well as character traits, communication skills, motivation and meta-learning attitudes grow enormously during the first years at school. And the primary school curriculum lays out the basic constituents of human knowledge by introducing students to its core disciplines.

Historically, the relative importance of the core subjects in primary school has always been a contentious issue. Many social interests and political opinions converge in the decision-making process, often resulting in an overcrowded curriculum prioritising expected social outcomes over children’s education needs and potential. A sound primary school curriculum should have sufficient “air” and flexibility to provide the space for children’s autonomous learning, for playful learning and for self-directed discovery of the world. Still, the relative weight of some of the core subjects in the curriculum is worth serious consideration.

The new Education Indicators in Focus brief presents the instruction time given to each of the main subjects in primary school across OECD countries in 2015. On average, primary school students receive 4.3 hours of instruction time per day. But as shown in the chart above, the differences across OECD countries are huge. More than one quarter of that time, 1.1 hours, on average, is spent on reading, writing and literature in the language used at school, ranging from almost two hours in France to .6 hours in Poland. France also devotes a relatively large amount of time to language instruction: no less than 37% of total instruction time.

Of course, language instruction is core to primary education. Reading and writing are foundation skills that are conventionally learned in the first years of primary school. Language instruction also supports wider cognitive development as well as social and communication skills.

But what about mathematics? And natural sciences? In most OECD countries, apart from some basic arithmetic, maths and science only made their way into the curriculum after the second industrial revolution. Curriculum reforms of the 1920s and 1930s provided space for maths and science education, often combined with new pedagogical approaches inspired by the child-centred pedagogy and the emerging field of cognitive psychology. In the second half of the 20th century it became generally accepted that basic mathematical understanding, or numeracy, and a basic knowledge of the natural world were as important foundation skills, to be mastered by every child, as literacy.

In 2015 on average across OECD countries, maths counted for 45 minutes of instruction time per day in primary education, and natural science for another 20 minutes. In relative terms, this translates to 17% of time devoted to maths and 8% devoted to science. So, on average primary schools across OECD countries spent approximately the same amount of instruction time on maths and science combined as on language. Thus, the core subjects of language, maths and science account for half of the total instruction time in primary education.

Yet, again, the differences among countries are huge. Korea and Poland provide less than half an hour per day of mathematics, while France, Mexico and Portugal devote more than one hour per day to maths at the primary level. The instruction time spent on maths and science outweighs that for language instruction by more than 25% in Chile, Portugal and Poland, while it counts for 25% or less time than for language instruction in Hungary, the Slovak Republic and Turkey.

Will the third and fourth industrial revolutions shake up the primary school curriculum again, leading to an increase in the time available for maths and science education? Contemporary concerns about STEM education have provoked new interest in the policy discussion on primary school curricula and the relative importance given to maths and science. To equip all students with the basic mathematical and scientific knowledge and understanding, sufficient time should be made available in the curriculum. Of course, time is only one of the variables in curriculum design. Even with all the time in the world, an uninspiring curriculum taught with bad pedagogies will yield poor results. And a badly designed curriculum that puts students under a lot of stress could reinforce maths anxiety and will dissuade students from pursuing maths education later on. Maths and science curricula need to be challenging, pedagogies need to focus on active learning and engagement, and children need sufficient time to understand the basics of maths and science. 

How is learning time organised in primary and secondary education? Education Indicators in Focus, issue No. 38, by Eric Charbonnier
Les indicateurs de l'éducation à la loupe, issue No. 38 (French version)
Photo credit: © OECD

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.

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):
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

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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.

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
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.