Monday, May 1, 2017

Is PISA Data Useless?

Yes, if you're a regular reader, then you know I think it's rather useless anyway.

But in April this story dropped. Folks had begun a mild-tomedium freakout because the East Asian PISA math superpowers (South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, etc), the people whose program everyone else was trying to imitate, had seen their scores start to drop. 

But now Andreas Schleicher, the official in charge of Pisa, has said that this fall may not be due to a drop in the performance of these Asian powerhouses. He said he was looking into whether the decline could be explained by the fact that Pisa used computers for the main tests for the first time in 2015.

In other words, data that is clearly presented as “comparable” in the study may not be comparable at all.

Which means the whole longitudinal game of charting PISA scores over time could be ruined, all those nifty charts now meaningless.

There's another implication here as well. The Testocrats have been quietly assuming that taking a Big Standardized Test on a computer is exactly like taking it on paper. But what if that's not true? What if taking a math test involves not only math skills, but test-taking skills. And what if computer test-taking skills are not the same set of skills as pencil-and-paper test-taking skills?

What if the Big Standardized Tests aren't really measuring what they purport to measure at all, and the whole test-centered education model is built on a sham?


  1. I actually went to a federal public meeting in Boston on planning the next generation of tests back at the beginning of Race to the Top (just out of curiosity and to make a technical comment on the lack of rigor in the whole endeavor). My biggest takeaway was that there were two main threads among the data geeks: 1) we have some great innovations coming; 2) any significant innovations break comparability, pretty much by definition.

    So yeah, everyone in the field knows this is an issue, but usually don't air it in public.

  2. And the house comes a crumblin' down!