Lessons From International Assessments

On December 3, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released the latest results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a test of reading literacy, mathematics, and science given every three years to fifteen-year-olds in the United States and approximately seventy countries and economies worldwide.

These results showed no improvement in the standing of the United States relative to nations worldwide. Consequently, we predict that media coverage of the release will focus on the idea that schools in the U.S. are struggling; that their performance is slipping; and that the nation is losing its competitive edge.

However, in addition to ranking countries by the performance of educational systems, PISA also reports on the policies and practices that high-performing nations use in their successful efforts to improve student achievement. While often ignored by both the media and policymakers, their research – and the research of others interested in international comparisons of education systems – provides key lessons on the policies and practices of high-performing countries that should inform our own efforts to provide all children with a high-quality education. Read our statement on the issue here.

This page provides both information on those lessons and resources to help you communicate them to others.  

Information from the OECD

PISA 2012 is the programme’s 5th survey. It assessed the competencies of 15-year-olds in reading, mathematics and science (with a focus on mathematics) in 65 countries and economies. For comparison's sake, you can view selected findings from PISA 2009 from the U.S. perspective here.

This report situates the performance in PISA of 15-year-olds in the United States against global patterns and trends. It goes beyond the aggregate-level analysis to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of U.S. students on different types of mathematics tasks. It also reviews the relationship with the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSSM) in order to help connect results from PISA to what the United States aspires to teach in classrooms and to inform teaching practices that can help to improve performance.

This report provides an international comparative analysis and policy advice to countries on how evaluation and assessment arrangements can be embedded within a consistent framework to improve the quality, equity and efficiency of school education. It builds upon a major 3-year review of evaluation and assessment policies in 28 countries, the OECD Review on Evaluation and Assessment Frameworks for Improving School Outcomes. As well as analyzing strengths and weaknesses of different approaches, the report provides recommendations for improvement including how results should be incorporated into policy and practice.

Reducing school failure pays off for both society and individuals. The highest performing education systems across OECD countries combine quality with equity. This report presents policy recommendations for education systems to help all children succeed in their schooling.

How have the countries at the top managed to achieve sustained high performance or to significantly improve their performance? This volume combines an analysis of PISA with a description of the policies and practices of those education systems that are close to the top or advancing rapidly, in order to offer insights for policy from their reform trajectories.

Additional Resources and Communications Tools

Related Commentary

Looking Beyond the Rankings: Sample Social Media Promotions

  • Learning from : Research reveals policies and practices that higher-performing nations consistently demonstrate
  • The countries that perform best on #PISA combine quality & equity. See #OECD's recs to improve system-level equity: http://bit.ly/Y9w07q 
  • What can the US learn from #PISA? Quite a bit – see a 2011 #OECD report on the topic: http://bit.ly/1dw3J1N #edpolicy
  • #PISA: It's Poverty Not Stupid. When poverty rates are taken into account, the US becomes a top performer: http://bit.ly/hiobMC
  • #PISA: What You Need to Know. brochure provides background to help you put the score release in context http://bit.ly/1cnaw97

Responses from the Education Community

  • American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE):

"The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) calls on policymakers and education leaders to consider the results along with findings from the 'Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education - Lessons from PISA 2012 for the United States' carefully." Read the complete statement.

  • American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten:

"Today's PISA results drive home what has become abundantly clear: While the intentions may have been good, a decade of top-down, test-based schooling created by No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top - focused on hyper-testing students, sanctioning teachers and closing schools - has failed to improve the quality of American education." Read the complete statement.

  • AASA: The School Superintendents Association Executive Director Dan Domenech: American Association of School Administrators (AASA):

"The problem we find in American education isn't that schools are 'falling behind,' it is that schools are 'pulling apart.' Poverty in American is the real issue behind today's education gap, and it means students can experience different education trajectories because of where they live." Read the complete statement.

  • National Association of Secondary School Prinicpals (NASSP) Executive Director JoAnn Bartoletti:

"The great irony, in fact, is that US policy and practice has responded to the PISA fervor in ways that are inconsistent with the very lessons OECD has tried to teach us." Read the complete statement.

  • National Education Association (NEA) President Dennis Van Roekel:

"The United States' standings haven't improved dramatically because we as a nation haven't addressed the main cause of our mediocre PISA performance - the effects of poverty on students." Read the complete statement.

  • National PTA President Otha Thornton:

"The results of the 2012 PISA demonstrate a clear need for academic standards that raise the bar and are algined with what students are expected to know to excel in today's workplace. The results also underscore the importance of family engagement in education." Read the complete statement.