What is PISA

Publication Details

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an international study that assesses and compares how well countries are preparing their 15-year-old students to meet real-life opportunities and challenges.

This study is an initiative of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Author(s): Research Division, Ministry of Education

Date Published: December 2016

Who takes part?

  • Approximately half a million students from 72 countries/economies took part in PISA 2015.
  • In New Zealand, over 4,500 students from 183 schools took part in the study in July/August 2015.
  • Schools and students within each school were randomly selected to take part. An international consortium commissioned by the OECD to implement PISA was responsible for sampling schools and students to ensure samples are fully representative of the countries.
  • This cohort of 15-year-olds began compulsory schooling in 2004.

What does PISA 2012 assess?

  • PISA assesses three key areas of knowledge and skills – reading, mathematical and scientific literacy. In 2015 scientific literacy was the major focus and reading and mathematical literacy minor focuses.
  • The term literacy captures the "capacity of students to apply knowledge and skills in key subjects, and to analyse, reason and communicate effectively as they identify, interpret and solve problems in a variety of situations".
  • Students and principals were asked to complete a background questionnaire that provides further information to help better understand the data.

How often is PISA administered?

  • PISA has been administered every three years since 2000.
  • While reading, mathematical and scientific literacy are assessed on each occasion, reading was the focus in 2000, mathematics in 2003 and science in 2006. The cycle began again in 2009 with reading, 2012 with mathematics and 2015 with science as the main focus.
  • A three-year cycle provides countries with timely information that includes data and analyses to consider the impact of policy decisions and related programs.
  • PISA 2015 marks the transition from a paper-based to a computer-based assessment.

What can PISA tell us?

  • PISA looks at the different factors in the system that contribute to student achievement over time including aspects of family background, the school environment, what happens in the classroom, and students' own attitudes, experiences and perceptions.
  • PISA assesses students who have completed around 10 years of compulsory schooling. It is a snapshot of student achievement and does not measure individual student progress over time.
  • However, it monitors overall student performance so that we can observe whether achievement is improving, remaining stable or declining over time. This allows us to monitor progress towards education goals such as raising achievement and reducing inequity.
  • PISA also allows us to examine New Zealand's performance relative to the rest of the world and learn from the experiences of other countries.

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