Nicholas Jones

Nicholas Jones is the New Zealand Herald’s education reporter.

Ditch 'flawed' Pisa school tests, say academics

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

A fixation on global school tests has led to scripted "vendor"-made lessons that harm rather than help children, a coalition of leading academics has warned.

New Zealanders have lent their voice to an open letter calling for the OECD to scrap its Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), which they say is flawed and narrowly focused on testable goals.

Teachers are pressured to bring up test scores to stop New Zealand's slide in global league tables, they argue, which marginalises areas such as creativity and the arts.

When New Zealand slipped in the latest Pisa rankings late last year the Government promised action, and delegations have been sent to higher-performing countries such as Singapore.

Such is the influence of the results that the director of Pisa, Dr Andreas Schleicher, has been dubbed "the world's schoolmaster" by media, and has been hosted in New Zealand by Education Minister Hekia Parata.

The open letter to Dr Schleicher signed by 120 leading academics and teachers from 12 countries attacked that influence as ultimately destructive.

They say the tests are imperfect and narrowly focused on economic goals, and testing next year should be scrapped.

"Pisa, with its three-year assessment cycle, has caused a shift of attention to short-term fixes designed to help a country quickly climb the rankings," the letter argues.

"[Pisa] impoverishes our classrooms, as it inevitably involves more and longer batteries of multiple-choice testing, more scripted 'vendor'-made lessons, and less autonomy for teachers."

Signatory Nesta Devine, an associate professor at Auckland University of Technology (AUT), said what had started as a gathering of indicators had been turned into a series of goals.

"[That] narrows the curriculum to things that can be tested, and an awful lot of a good curriculum is stuff that's difficult to test - social skills, whether or not [students] are happy ... the arts," Professor Devine said.

Neil Boland, also a signatory and a senior lecturer at AUT, said research did not back up a link between Pisa rankings and future economic success.

"Nothing gets a knee-jerk response more than a league table," he said.

Ms Parata told the Herald that Pisa was just one of a number of studies and tests she takes into account and comments on, and did not have an "overweaning status".

Dr Schleicher could not be reached for comment, but told the Guardian newspaper in Britain that Pisa enriches education because it encourages countries to look at ideas from around the world.

Too much testing?

• Open letter attacks international tests run by the OECD.

• The last Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) results showed New Zealand 15-year-olds dropping down an international league table, which prompted finger-pointing and debate here.

• Letter is signed by 120 academics and teachers worldwide, including those at AUT, the University of Waikato and the University of Canterbury.

- NZ Herald

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