How good are you?

Do you still remember how you felt when you got your Abitur? I bet one of the emotions was pride. Finally, after all these years we made it and in a very good way that is. So pride definitely seems justified. But is it really? How do we know if we can really be proud of our education? Easy, we compare and compete with other countries. The known way to check where you are standing is through the PISA test. PISA does not stand for the city, no, it stands for: Program for International Student Assessment.

The first PISA test took place in 2000 and was repeated every third year since then, so the next test will be held this year. The test focuses on the fields of reading, maths and science, where there is always one field with a higher importance.

The participating countries are required to test at least 5000 students from the age of 15 and 3 months till age 16 and 2 months ( I wonder who came up with that logic) whereas it doesn’t matter in which class these students are.  

Especially in Germany, everyone was shocked by the bad first results. Especially the reading part seemed to overstrain the students, the maths and science results were somewhere in the middle. This led to a lot of discussion on what could and has to be done in our education system.

But is the PISA test really the right way to compare the educational level of students? For example, the test does include background information of the participants, but how and how much this counts for in the end nobody knows. There is only a statistic included, which shows that students with a migration back ground achieve lower scores, but it doesn’t provide any justification. Also, I have never heard of anyone being included in the PISA test, so I am really curious what students from which schools are included. Apparently, the schools and the students are randomly chosen, but I have never heard of a school near where I lived being chosen.  Which seems a little strange when you hear that 250 schools participate.



PISA Test just as incapable as its participants?

This is also what the Munich physicist Joachim Wuttke criticized: he argues that the test samples are not representative. This is the case, because in 7 countries ( including Germany) the tests of students attaining schools for the mentally handicapped. If these tests weren’t included in the end results, Germany would have been on place 12 instead of place 18. Another point he claims is that the participation of the schools in the different countries is to widespread: In the US 68,1% and in Germany 98,8% participate. This gives countries the freedom to leave out non high-performing schools.

Another point that should not be ignored is the one made by Thomas Jahnke from the university of Potsdam: He claims that the test in general is not appropriate to judge the knowledge of students, because it is a huge selling deal for the private companies that build the test. He fears that they only care about the profitability of the product and not about the suitability of the questions for example.

How can you fairly allocate points to questions if you can solve them in many different ways where the solutions severely differ in creativity and complexity? You can’t – that’s what Wolfram Meyerhöfer, also from the university of Potsdam. The way the PISA test allocates points is fairly simple: They divide the questions into different categories: easy, medium, difficult. The more difficult questions a student answers, the higher his score.

Here a little irony for you: The test revealed that a lot of students have big problems reading and understanding texts. However, the expert Joachim Wuttke from the research center in Jülich argues that the language of the test creates a lot of problems: The French maths texts are for example about 12% longer than the English ones, which has a definite influence on the students’ time to perform the tasks. Another aspect are the translations: The people translating the text use the expressions that they like best, but not necessarily the ones established in the countries. This causes more problems for the students to understand the questions.

A never ending story: How to present data?

After all of these problems concerning the test performance, here another big problem: What to do with the results? The people in charge of the test evaluation keep the data safe like it could save all world problems and only release it in form of lists one year after the test was taken. These lists look very easy to understand and direct, but what exactly does “45points in increased learning in one school year” mean? This shows that even simple looking tables can actually be not that simple and used to show the results the makers want to show.


What now?

Even with all this flaws, the PISA study has one huge benefit: It woke us up. No matter how biased the results might be, the low scores Germany made are simply unacceptable! And the government knows this, too. They realized that something in our education system has to change. This alone is a huge success. Only how efficient those changes will be is up to discussion.


4 responses to “How good are you?

  1. Hey Alexandra,
    it is nice that you have chosen such a topic. And did not knew that there is such a difference in the percentage of participating schools and I think this makes the test really inappropriate if such a manipulation of the result is possible. I think it is really difficult to make the test such a way to avoid these language issues among the different countries. For the bad reading scores, I have to say, when I was in primary school in the 6th grade, we had a reading competition. Everybody had to bring his or her favorite book and had to read 1 page of it. I think this is also a good way to foster reading skills and to make a comparison in the class.
    Concerning your blog, I liked that you included many opinions of professionals. Good work!

  2. Hi Alexandra,
    as janastaub already said, you’ve chosen an interesting topic. First of all the school where my kids are going is doing this PISA test, too. However the teacher has never shown us the results of the class. Until today we’ve never get any feedback about the performance of our children, class or school. When I ask my kids they tell me that they even couldn’t understand some questions or didn’t cover this stuff in the lesson. So my question is? What the hell do they want to compare or evaluate? I agree that the PISA test is controversial. However our authorities have begun to improve the education system in Germany after these tests. Whether the new regulations are an improvement or not, the time will tell. Thanks for this post.

  3. Hey Alex!
    What an interesting topic! I really liked that you chose to write about such an important topic.
    A lot of countries are proud of their education, because of the results of the PISA test. However I totally agree with you that there are a lot of problems considering this study. You demonstrated a lot of those problems and facts of the PISA test to us, which really caught my interest.
    Your blog post is very well structured and contains different opinions and views.
    The pictures are supportive and speak for themselves.
    The thing, which I liked most about your post, is you conclusion. You are right! Something in our education system has to change and it is a good thing that the PISA test at least made the government think about changes.
    Well done, Alex! I’m looking forward to your next post!

  4. Hey Alex,
    First of all I have to say that your subtitle seemed really appealing to me and I felt immediately concerned to read your post.
    Another point that I really liked is that you included two graphics, as they fit to your content, which relies on a lot of data and stats. Plus they give a great overview of the out coming of the PISA test in general.
    It seems to me that you put a lot of effort in your post as you included a lot of opinions of experts in your blog, which underlines that you did a wonderful research on the topic. Furthermore it was a nice idea to write a paragraph of how to present the data – I didn´t know that there are some many difficulties presenting it.
    Anyhow I can not deny that I miss the linking to other webpages in your post. It seems to me that at our stage we have to declare the sources and it would be quite nice for your readers, who would like to get a deeper insight in the issue.
    I can imagine that your blog would have been even more valuable if you would have subdivided it into more parts and highlighted some key words.
    By the way – What do you think about such tests? I would appreciate to hear your opinion.
    As you wrote that you have never heard of anyone being included in the PISA test I just wanted to let you know that I had to participate in the PISA test in 6th grade.
    Now you know someone, who took part in it. 😉

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