Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)




The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a triennial international survey carried out by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) which began in 2000, and which aims to evaluate education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students reading, mathematics and science, with a focus on one subject in each year of assessment. To date, students representing more than 70 economies have participated in the assessment. Around 510,000 students in 65 economies took part in PISA 2012, representing about 28 million 15-year-olds globally. Not all of the “economies” are countries. In 2012, three Chinese cities took part: Hong Kong, Macau, and Shanghai.

According to the OECD, “rather than examine mastery of specific school curricula, PISA looks at students’ ability to apply knowledge and skills in key subject areas and to analyse, reason, and communicate effectively as they examine, interpret, and solve problems.”



Subject focus


Reading literacy






Reading literacy





Source: OECD (,




PISA Information, Results and Reports


PISA Home Page– OECD

Information on the PISA surveys held every three years since 2000


PISA 2012 Results- 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. Includes links to full reports and data.


Measuring up: Canadian Results of the OECD PISA Study: The Performance of Canada’s Youth in Mathematics, Reading and Science - 2012 First Results for Canadians Aged 15 - Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC)

                Presents Canadian results from the PISA 2012 study


How Good are Canadian 15-Year-Olds at Solving Problems?: Further Results from PISA 2012- Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC)




Take-away Pisa for busy people by Sean Coughlan, BBC News education correspondent

                A summary of important points about PISA


Pisa tests: What do we know now? by Sean Coughlan, BBC News education correspondent

Points out that for all the focus on international ranking, regional variations within countries are often greater than variations between countries


How Pisa became the world's most important exam, by Sean Coughlan, BBC News education correspondent

Based on an interview with the OECD’s Andreas Schleicher, this article provides a background to the PISA study. It started, he says, with a desire to compare education systems based on levels of achievement rather than how much money they were spending. Mr. Schleicher’s argument for PISA’s importance is that “your education today is your economy tomorrow," and that in a globalised world the key comparisons are with other countries: “Your country's competitiveness and your individual job prospects are heavily influenced by what happens in other countries […]”.


10 Things You Should Know About PISA. When 140 Characters Isn’t Enough.

Suggests that although the rankings should be taken with a grain of salt, PISA is useful for looking at trends in countries’ education performance in a narrow range of subjects.



United States

PISA results show ‘educational stagnation’ in U.S., by Stephanie Simon, Politico

Points out that there were tremendous variations in American PISA results between schools: “High-poverty schools in the U.S. posted dismal scores on the PISA tests, akin to countries such as Kazakhstan, Romania, and Cyprus” while students in the most affluent U.S. schools “scored so highly that if treated as a separate jurisdiction, they would have placed second only to Shanghai in science and reading and would have ranked sixth in the world in math.”




Finland Used To Have The Best Education System In The World — What Happened? – Adam Taylor, Business Insider

Why have Finland’s results declined in recent years? One suggestion made here is that Finland may be a victim of its own success “As a norm-referenced test, PISA is graded on a curve”, so perhaps as other nations have learned from Finland and improved their results, bringing down Finland’s results.



Shanghai, China


PISA education tests: Why Shanghai pupils are so special, by Tom Phillips, The Telegraph

A look at why Shanghai topped the rankings in PISA.



United Kingdom

PISA tests: UK stagnates as Shanghai tops league table, by Sean Coughlan, BBC News education correspondent.

Although UK scores have been stable, the improvement of other countries has resulted in the UK’s decline in the rankings. Education Minister Michael Gove used the occasion to promote his proposed school reforms, such as curriculum changes, school autonomy, and directing financial support towards poorer pupils, as needed to prevent schools in England from "falling further behind". However Chris Keates, leader of the NASUWT teachers' union, argued that high performing countries were those which promoted the professionalism of teachers.




Critiques and Counter-Critiques


7 Reasons I Don't Care About the PISA Results, by Rick Hess, Education Week

                From an American perspective.


OECD and Pisa tests are damaging education worldwide - academics - The Guardian, May 6, 2014

In this open letter to Dr Andreas Schleicher, director of the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment, academics from around the world express deep concern about the impact of PISA and call for a wide range of reforms to the test.


What You Need to Know About the International Test Scores, by Diane Ravitch, Huffington Post

Questions the pertinence of international education surveys based on the fact that the  United States has never managed more than a middling performance in such surveys since the 1960’s and yet has done quite well economically compared to higher-ranking countries .


Why the U.S. Results on PISA Matter, by Eric A. Hanushek

An answer to critiques of the relevence of US PISA results



United Kingdom

The Pisa methodology: do its education claims stack up?, Mona Chalabi, Reality Check [blog], The Guardian

                A look at the PISA methodology and critiques that have been made of it.


Are PISA scores really that important?,  by Jeremy Fox, Our Kingdom

While PISA’s picture of relative decline compared to Asian education systems suits the UK government’s education reform agenda, research suggests that high performance in international tests is really not important for a country’s economic and social well being.


PISA study: How good is Scotland's education system?,  by Jamie McIvor, BBC Scotland education correspondent

Many within Scottish education play down the significance of the PISA rankings. They argue that the tests only cover very specific skills and pay no attention to the concept of deeper learning and understanding - a vital concept in Scotland's Curriculum for Excellence.


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