The person behind the exam that measures the world’s students

In 2015, more than half a million 15-year-old students across the globe took an assessment of their performance in science, math, and reading to see how their results compared to other students of the same age. Andreas Schleicher heads the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which is in charge of the global exam.

Schleicher designed the test that is used to compare how well national education systems are preparing their students for job and life skills needed in the future and has been measuring student performance across 60 countries for nearly two decades.

“We were less interested in whether students can simply reproduce what they’ve learned in school. We wanted to test whether they can extrapolate what they learned and apply that knowledge,” Schleicher said in a 2017 TED Talk.

This way, the students are evaluated on their preparedness for change, skills needed for jobs that haven’t yet been created, technologies that haven’t been invented, and problems we can’t anticipate today.

PISA doesn’t just measure the application of knowledge. The assessment also sets out to see which countries’ education systems deliver equity and ensure students of different social backgrounds have equal opportunities. This year will be the first time that a global competence framework will be added to the assessment. Schleicher and his team at PISA want to measure how students understand and appreciate the world views of others.

What’s the point of the PISA? The results of the test, which has been given every three years since 2000, are fed back to governments and schools so they can work on improving student performance and thus their ranking. The information gleaned from the test is unprecedented and invaluable in efforts to prepare our young people for the future. Comparisons made between countries can be useful for determining best practices in education systems.

The findings of the test over the years have been enlightening. The 2015 data told us:

  • Singapore outperforms all other participating countries in science, math, and reading.
  • The United States ranks 38thin math and 24thin science out of 71 countries.
  • For years, girls have performed better in reading, but the gap narrowed 12 points between 2009 and 2015.
  • About 29% of disadvantaged students in participating countries beat the odds and perform at high levels.

Some countries have high performance, but low equity – and vice versa. The sweet spot of all these factors, says Schleicher, is the place where countries see excellent performance, as well as equal opportunities for all.

“What we have learned from PISA is that, in high-performing education systems, the leaders have convinced their citizens to make choices that value education, their future, more than consumption today,” Schleicher said.

Interested in hearing more from Andreas Schleicher? Join the conversation at ElevatEd: Education & the Economy on June 4, 2018 at Southern Methodist University. The program will include time to ask questions of speakers and network with other leaders in business, education and non-profit sectors.

This year’s powerful lineup of experts includes Andreas Schleicher, education director at the OECD and creator of the PISA exam; Our Kids author and political scientist at Harvard University, Dr. Robert Putnam; Dream Hoarders author Dr. Richard Reeves of the Brookings Institution; Dr. Ruth Simmons, President of Prairie View A&M University and former President of Brown University; Robert Kaplan, President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and more.