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Home > News > Professional Issues > Professional Issues Volume 10 > PISA should not dictate what happens in Australian classrooms

PISA should not dictate what happens in Australian classrooms

International standardised testing should not be used as an indicator of student performance.


Issue snapshot: 

  • Latest release of PISA results spark further comparisons between nations. 
  • International standardised testing is not a reliable indicator of student performance.
  • The focus of testing should be on what happens in Australian classrooms, and not to appease political desire for superficial international standings. 

Since the latest release of results from the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), attention has been placed on how Australian schools and students fair against international counterparts. However, conclusions drawn from data based on international standardised testing should not be used as a basis for education policy in Australia.

IEUA-QNT Assistant Secretary/Treasurer Paul Giles said international standardised testing becomes an issue when teachers lose control over what their students are being tested on – and subsequently lose control of their teaching plans, goals and intended outcomes.

“As teachers and school staff who work in the profession every day, and know firsthand what should be taught in our schools, Australian teachers should not have to respond to external expectations that pull blanket comparisons over the entire globe – ignoring all cultural learning, priorities and needs of each individual country’s young citizens and the professional knowledge of teachers.

“The validity of what is being tested is also questionable. While comparing student’s knowledge in one subject area for one country may seem fitting, it may be completely irrelevant to another in terms of social and cultural expectations, needs and priorities,” Mr Giles said. 

According to Daniel Caro and Jenny Lenkeit of Oxford University, country rankings in international education tests – such as PISA – do not always create an even playing field.

This is because countries with very different social and economic realities participate, so countries such as Norway, Russia, Chile, Lebanon and Thailand are all being compared against each other. This is without the difference in socio-economic and cultural backgrounds between countries being taken into account.

While Australian students do well in international tests such as PISA (achieving literacy, science, mathematics, and financial literacy scores above OECD average), it is unfortunate that it has become commonplace for politicians to use data from these tests as justification to put forward policies intended to improve Australia’s superficial international standing. 

This is ultimately irrelevant and does not appropriately meet the needs of Australian students. 

“Rather than focussing teaching efforts to satisfy policy makers’ desire to draw comparisons between countries whose interests – socially, culturally, and academically – differ drastically from our own, governments need to provide professional structures and support to enable teachers and school staff to do what they do best: devise quality, curriculum-based education for their students. 

“What is taught, and how it is taught and assessed, should be at the discretion of those who work in the classroom, not an external international body that has given no consideration to what is happening on a classroom level,” Mr Giles said.

Authorised by Terry Burke, Independent Education Union of Australia – Queensland & Northern Territory Branch, Brisbane.