A PISA contradiction

Should Americans use the newly released Program of International Student Assessment scores, which show U.S. students have retained their very average rankings, as a tool to improve education policies? It all depends on whom you ask.

Here’s what the new report titled “Lessons from PISA 2012 for the United States,” from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an international economic organization, said when it was released Tuesday along with 2012 test score results:

PISA is not only an accurate indicator of students’ abilities to participate fully in society after compulsory school, but also a powerful tool that countries and economies can use to fine-tune their education policies.

That, though, isn’t the view of Jack Buckley, commissioner at the National Center for Education Statistics, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education. My colleague Lyndsey Layton reported that Buckley said it could be a bad idea to use the PISA results to draw conclusions about whether education policies are working.

People like to take international results like this and focus on high performers and pick out areas of policy that support the policies that they support.  I never expect tests like these to tell us what works in education. That’s like taking a thermometer to explain why it’s cold outside.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss | December 3, 2013