Boo to PISA

It is not PISA testing as such that I am booing. Some testing can be useful. The data it gives students about their learning can give them some direction for setting learning goals. For teachers, the collective data of a cohort of students can inform their lesson planning. For teachers, the data of individual students can be used to individualise lessons and measure progress over time. So yes testing, (PISA or otherwise), can be useful.

However, a problem arises when a huge emphasis is placed upon the results by the system. Such high-stakes testing is not about learning. It is about who is “best” as measured by a limited set of knowledge and skills, giving excessive weight to these. High-stakes testing, such as PISA and NAPLAN (Australia), results in individual students and schools themselves being judged as successful or “failing” based purely on such limited testing. High-stakes testing does not harmonise with 21st century learning. High stakes testing is contrary to modern research into learning: it is not future-cated as Marc Prensky likes to say.

Highly respected experts in education such as Sir Ken Robinson, Professor Stephen Heppell, Dr. Yong Zhao and Marc Prensky are all outspoken opponents of PISA and other forms of high-stakes testing. (See Creating Illusory Models of Excellence by Yong Zhao) In some countries children are put under enormous pressures to perform well in these tests. Schools become focused upon achieving high scores and outdoing neighbouring schools. Countries compete against country in what Sir Ken Robinson refers to as an Education scores “Beauty Pageant”. Teachers teach to the test for fear of being rated as under-performing, so they stepping back from teaching each individual child what each individual child needs to learn. Children are the big losers, being prepared to perform on tests rather than being prepared for the future world they will be living in.

I am not against gathering some data through testing. Sure, use some testing at a local level to help identify what each child needs and as one indicator of improvement in some areas, but there is much more to educating a child than PISA and NAPLAN. High-stakes testing with an emphasis on where you sit on a some league ladder is an abuse of students, of teachers and of schools.


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