What is the PISA report for?


The field work that will lead to a new PISA report is now underway . The last one published, which corresponds to the seventh edition, was published in 2018 .

It is common for political representatives, as well as the media, to focus on the ranking of the countries , but, from a psychological perspective, these reports offer much more juicy evidence to get closer to the goal of improving the training of schoolchildren in the OECD, which is the one that is supposed to be reached.

Who learns more and why?

The science of psychology has long concluded that the factor that best distinguishes students who learn more and less at school is their own intellectual level , rather than other factors such as the socioeconomic level of their families .

The students with the best performance in intelligence tests are also those who learn more and better in school. This conclusion is generalized to the results they achieve in the PISA tests. This is so because these tests value, like intelligence tests, the ability to learn in general and the competent use of what has been learned.

The super capacity of intelligence

This intelligence-education connection is easy to understand. On the one hand, scientific psychology defines intelligence as the super capacity responsible for integrating and coordinating the other mental capacities (perception, attention, memory, language, reasoning, etc.) to direct the action of individuals.

On the other hand, PISA points out that its evaluation “goes beyond assessing whether students can reproduce what they have learned in school. Showing optimal performance on the PISA tests requires being able to extrapolate from what is known, think across subjects, creatively apply what is known to novel situations, and demonstrate efficient learning strategies.”

Consequently, what is valued in the intelligence tests and in the PISA tests is the general ability to deal efficiently with problems of a varied nature, hence they are closely related.

Learn more or learn what is necessary

Something that escapes the spotlight, because it is less obvious, is that the most intelligent students can learn more than the less intelligent, but that does not mean that they learn what they should.

The most dramatic example is that only one in ten schoolchildren in the OECD is capable of distinguishing fact from opinion using the implicit cues contained in a given text. Lacking this discriminative capacity seriously compromises educational progress.

Some students learn more than others, and these learning differences are strongly associated with their intellectual differences, but this is not the crucial message. The crucial message is that those who learn more and better do not necessarily meet the required educational criteria.

Criteria and levels

PISA assesses the level reached by OECD schoolchildren considering these educational criteria in:

  1. Skills related to reading.
  2. Sciences.
  3. Math.

The average levels achieved by schoolchildren of the same age, but from different countries, can mean a difference of several school years . It follows, therefore, that within some school systems more effective mechanisms are articulated so that their students can come closer to the required success criteria.

Notable regional differences

Even so, probably the most revealing thing, and surely the most useful for those who must take measures to improve, is that within each country and, therefore, within the same school habitat, more than notable distances are observed between the different regions.

In the case of Spain, the scores achieved by Galician schoolchildren in science place them in the top 15% worldwide, while Ceuta schoolchildren are in the bottom 25%. That difference between Galicia and Ceuta is equivalent to two school years.

The obvious consequence is that it is completely unnecessary to look to the Far East (China or Singapore) to find mechanisms that can contribute to improving the level of knowledge and school skills that can, if necessary, be expressed in the PISA assessments.

Adapt teaching

The essential recommendation of the scientists who have assessed the impact that the differences in intelligence that separate schoolchildren have on their educational learning consists in adapting teaching to these differences so that the majority of schoolchildren, regardless of their intellectual level, can learn what they owe The PISA 2018 report reaches that conclusion, using another terminology:

“The future of education lies in integration: the integration of different subjects, the integration of different students and the integration of different learning contexts. The future lies in personalized educational experiences, that is, the design of teaching methods according to the passions and abilities of (different) students”.

Schoolchildren, rather than countries, regions or schools, are the real protagonists. The educational designs that revolve around this idea will be much more efficient when it comes to approaching the success criteria pursued, by ensuring that the vast majority of schoolchildren learn what they should.

Author Bio: Robert Colom is a Differential psychology and neuroscience at Autonomous University of Madrid