Reclaimed – “Testing or Not Testing, the PISA question?”

August 18, 2012 Off By JR

Today we heard about and discussed the infamous PISA tests. First I would just like all of you to see this video. Keep a few things in mind:

  1. I have just finished hearing about how people are portrayed either by culture, nation, etc. So watch for that.
  2. What is this video really saying?
  3. And I think all you video design nerds out there are going to enjoy ripping this apart as much as I did in class


Next, I loved the reality check we got today. After all the news reports and books and articles I have seen that all say teaching is one of the most desirable positions, and that the best students go to teaching. We also hear how it is comparable to medical school or law school. Reality check: there likely are no students who say “well I couldn’t get into education so I became a doctor.”  Loved it! So lets examine the process, the students who want to enter teaching college must apply, then they write an exam. If they score high then they get an interview, then maybe they will be accepted. There are only 100 or so spots, so when 1000 students apply of course it will be difficult to get in. However, it is still true that while maybe students are not the top top top (by the standards that medicine is the be all and end all, top of Universities) the college of education here still can bring in the best of a very large group of students (I saw this very thing happen at my college back home). However, I wonder how difficult entrance into other departments is based on this new knowledge.

There are some key factors that influence test performance (including but not limited to)

  1. language (Finland: 91% Suomi, 6% Swedish, 1% Sami, 3% immigrants)
  2. attitudes (is school a privilege or does everyone go)
  3. textbooks and how are they written (low level or high level)
  4. 50-60% of children attend early ed (for pay)
  5. 95% kindergarten (free)

Those are a lot of factors to consider. We then talked about the structure of the school system, 9 years compulsory, then upper secondary or vocation, then higher ed. Although students are not systemically streamed I wonder what else can happen. Maybe there are better and worse schools (by perception), or even in the secondary years stronger classes or weaker classes (similar to the enriched programs back home). Regardless of that, it seems students in primary school here have access to health, dental, welfare, psychological, and nutritional assistance. I wish that was true for all schools across the globe.

We also talked about curriculum change etc, but I want to dive into PISA. So lets remember that PISA is NOT a curricular exam. So student who take it may not even understand exactly “how the game is played”. Also, although the tasks in PISA are in literacy, math, and science the correlation between these is 0.98. This means that students may not even know which of the three is being tested. What I find really interesting about this is that as far as I can understand from talking with the class, is that schools globally isolate subjects. This is a huge contrast. I like how PISA is about “real life tasks” yet it is written in 2 hours with a paper and pencil, that’s so authentic (cough). Lets also remember that the OECD is political and PISA is a political tool, NOT an educational tool. What value system differences are there between those two? Well I’d love to get input from all of you about that one. The OECD consists of 34 countries, and up to 67 participated in the exam. Think about the representation in this scenario. This makes me think back to our multi/interculturalism days, who is in power, what is their motive, how does their value system shape the exam? I also questioned about how the test is created, and although countries may be able to submit questions, less than 34 countries create the test. That is a huge bias in my opinion against everyone else. Maybe the methodology behind the whole thing is sound, but I still do not think this test really says too much. Lastly what is the motivation for the student? Are they already drilled to death with tests, or do they not care because it is low stakes? This can affect the outcomes in either direction.

Some bonuses that were pointed out for the Finland case:

  • almost 40 years ago teachers had to obtain master’s degrees. Those already in service went through PD to match that standard
  • regardless of political change in Finland the education system is quite stable, this can help with long term goal setting, rather than what I see in North America (the flavour of the month approach)

Tonight I met with a friend of mine who is visiting Helsinki for a few days. We simply went for dinner and I helped her find her hostel and get settled in. We then took a walk about Töölö, a body of water just north of the train station. Enjoy the photos.