In a recent commentary in Ed Week, I discussed two emerging problems in PISA, the Program for International Student Assessment, administered by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). I identified OECD’s insufficient attention to research and development (driven in part by its pursuit of “innovative” topics) and the too-short three-year testing cycle (which is outdated by new assessment technologies). Here I want to focus on yet another emerging problem: OECD’s global ambitions for PISA.
OECD serves as a forum in which the governments of 36 advanced democracies with market-based economies plus the European Union work together to address common problems and identify best practices. Since 1961, it has been a source of market-friendly, evidence-based research and policy advice.
As OECD has expanded its membership from its original 20 countries, the number of nations administering PISA has grown even faster, from 32 in the year 2000 to 78 last year (including some Chinese provinces and other subnational entities). With that growth, the composition of the countries participating in PISA has changed dramatically. Member nations represented almost 90 percent of PISA participants in 2000 but less than half in 2018. By 2030, OECD wants to add some 40 more countries to PISA, further diluting the representation of its members.
PISA is a unique international resource, so it is not surprising that many countries want to participate in the assessment, something encouraged by OECD’s secretariat. But the logistical challenge of the undertaking is already formidable. In 2018, PISA assessed nearly 1 million 15-year-olds across the globe, accommodating 131 languages in communities ranging from rural impoverished to urban affluent. Adding 40 more countries will amplify these challenges.