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PISA test: Program for International Student Assessment

PISA test: Program for International Student Assessment

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a global study conducted by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to assess reading, mathematics and scientific literacy in 15-year-old students.

The test also assesses a broader range of knowledge and skills needed for full participation in society. PISA began in 2000 and is conducted every three years, with each cycle focusing on a particular area while still covering all three.

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is an international organization made up of 38 member countries. It was founded on December 14, 1960 to promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world.

Mission and objectives

The OECD's core mission is to shape policies that promote prosperity, equality, opportunity and well-being for all. Drawing on nearly 60 years of experience and ideas, the OECD is a global forum where member states collaborate to identify, discuss and analyse problems, formulate solutions and set standards in a wide range of policy areas.

The organization's work covers economic, environmental and social issues. They range from macroeconomic, trade, employment and education policies to health, environment and sustainable development issues.

The OECD also plays a leading role in understanding and helping governments respond to new developments and concerns, such as corporate governance, information technology and the challenges of aging populations.

Objectives of the International Program for Student Assessment

PISA aims to provide standardized benchmarks for participating countries. It tests students near the end of their compulsory education, providing insights into how well they have grasped essential knowledge and skills. The goal is to assess students' readiness to participate effectively and productively in society. Its findings are used to inform education policy and practice, and to monitor trends in students' acquisition of knowledge and skills across countries and demographics.

Areas of international test assessment

reading and writing

Reading and writing, the main area of ​​the International Programme, involves understanding, using, thinking about, and engaging with written texts to achieve one's goals, develop knowledge and capabilities, and participate in society. The PISA literacy assessment measures how well students extrapolate from what they have read and apply this knowledge in different contexts.

Mathematical literacy

Mathematical literacy refers to students' ability to formulate, employ, and interpret mathematics in different contexts. It involves mathematical thinking and the use of mathematical concepts, procedures, facts and tools to describe, explain, predict and manage phenomena and situations. It also includes recognition of the role that mathematics plays in the world.

Scientific literacy

Science literacy is defined as the ability to engage with issues related to science and with the ideas of science, as a reflective citizen. It includes explaining phenomena scientifically, interpreting data and evidence scientifically, and evaluating and designing scientific research.

It also sometimes assesses other areas such as collaborative problem solving and financial literacy.

International program evaluation framework

PISA uses a complex rotor design for its tests. The design includes a mix of test booklets, ensuring balance across the board while keeping the test period within reasonable limits. Each test takes two hours, with students answering questions about two of the three areas.

The assessments are based on a model that views literacy in each domain as a continuum of proficiency. Instead of a pass/fail binary, PISA measures varying levels of proficiency. Scores are reported on a scale, usually centered around 500 points, with a standard deviation of 100 points.

Choose a PISA model and implement it

PISA targets a group of 15-year-old students in participating countries. Schools are randomly selected, and in each school selected, students are also randomly selected. About 510.000 students participated in the latest assessment, representing about 28 million 15-year-olds globally.

The test usually operates through a computer-based assessment, although some countries may use a paper version if necessary. There is a trend toward computer-based assessments, because they allow for more interactive and complex tasks.

Results and use of international program results

Assessment results provide a wealth of data, allowing for an in-depth look at factors that can influence student performance. This includes aspects such as socioeconomic status, teacher-student relationships, and the learning environment.

Countries often use PISA results to guide their education policies. By identifying strengths and weaknesses in their students' performance, policymakers can target specific areas for improvement. PISA results can also reveal inequalities in a country's educational system, such as performance differences related to gender, immigrant status, or socioeconomic status.

Criticisms and limitations of the international programme

Not without criticism. Some argue that testing promotes a narrow view of education by focusing on measurable aspects of education while ignoring other essential components such as creativity, critical thinking, and social skills.

Another criticism is the overemphasis on test rankings, which leads to competition rather than cooperation between countries. Critics claim that this competition could lead to policy changes focused on improving grades rather than overall educational quality.

The cultural bias of the test is another concern, with some arguing that the test is better suited to Western education systems.

Which countries perform best on the test?

Countrystrength point
SingaporeReading, mathematics and science
Hong KongReading, mathematics and science
MacaoReading, mathematics and science
TaiwanReading, mathematics and science
EstoniaReading and science
JapanScience and mathematics
South KoreaScience and mathematics
China (selected provinces: Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang)Reading, mathematics and science

Please note that the table provides a simplified overview. It represents countries that perform consistently well across PISA tests, but does not capture the full range of domains tested or country-specific scores.


It is a valuable tool for understanding how students around the world develop essential skills and knowledge. While it has its limitations and criticisms, its findings help stimulate discussions and drive improvements in education policy and practice globally. As the world continues to change rapidly, the role of testing in assessing students' readiness to actively participate in life outside of school is more important than ever.

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