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No matter how many articles you read on why Shanghai students perform so well, or how Canada integrates and educates its immigrant population better than most of the Western world, you’ll never really get the full story from the data. Sure, the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results have helpful tables and graphs, and even a story or two, but how do these countries really do it?


Barring a trip to Ontario or Poland this winter break, the best way to gain deeper insight into how high performing countries may have found the magic recipe for education success is shown through a new high-quality video series “Strong Performers and Successful Reformers”. The videos were jointly produced by the OECD and the Pearson Foundation to present initiatives around the world that appear to help improve student learningotucomes.  The school systems featured in the video series include Ontario, Canada; Shanghai, China; Finland and Poland. These education systems were chosen as examples either for their strong performance in the OECD’s PISA or for their  improvement in performance over the past years.


The videos are fun to watch (really!). They provide a unique glimpse into policies as they are experienced in the classrooms of high-performing schools, and help paint a fuller picture of what appears to be driving success in education.  No matter what country you’re from, you’ll probably wonder: “why can’t we do that?”


And that’s just the point.


Today marked the first-of-its-kind “OECD as a School,” an event that brought 100 students, teachers and school directors to the OECD to discuss PISA findings

Mark is trying to find a way for all three of his friends to chat. He looks at three clocks and sees that it’s midnight in London, 1am in Berlin, and 10am in Sydney. If his friend wants to talk at 7pm in Sydney, what time will it be in Berlin?


OK, another one: You need six French sports stadiums to seat them. If they held hands, their combined length would reach from Paris to the city of Pisa, with a few teachers thrown in. They have all taken a 2-hour reading, math, and science test that evaluates their ability to apply their acquired knowledge in novel situations. Who are they?


470,000 students from around the world that participated in PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) 2009. Today, some of them joined us here at the OECD headquarters for an afternoon to discuss PISA results with teachers, school directors and OECD experts. The event, aptly called “OECD as a School,” is the first of its kind at OECD.


In true PISA-style, instead of just repeating and presenting the numbers, the OECD asked students, teachers, and school directors in France to join OECD experts talk about what the results mean, and to think critically about how we can use the results to improve education. As part of the event, the main PISA findings were presented to the audience, as well as some of the questions from the PISA test. Notice the time zone question above? That was a bona fide PISA question.


What happens after PISA? OECD presenters talked about making available new flexible testing material based on the PISA test. The tests would be similar, but not linked or comparable to PISA. The material would allow schools to set themselves against PISA benchmarks to help improve education performance.


We were honoured to have Peter Gumbel, an author and professor at Sciences Po, Paris and with Francesca Borgonovi, an analyst in the Indicators and Analysis Division at the OECD, animate this rather lively event. You can go to to see the details.


And to read about the PISA 2009 results, see


Now back to class …

PISA results prove education is a good investment

Five Volumes of Comparative International Data on Education Reveal Wide Differences in Education Outcomes


Swift to adapt and open to change. These two attributes are what we found to be common among successful countries in the latest Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which evaluates the quality, equity, and efficiency of school systems in 34 OECD member countries and 40 partner countries/economies and province of Shanghai. Not just member countries of the OECD, PISA participants make up nine-tenths of the world economy and represent a commitment by government to track the outcomes of their education systems. PISA inspires national efforts to help students to learn better, teachers to teach better, and school systems to work better.


The outcomes of the PISA results are as diverse as the countries that were evaluated. We found that wealth doesn’t always determine educational success and that countries from a variety of starting points have shown potential to raise the quality of educational outcomes. For example, within a decade, Korea was able to virtually double the share of students demonstrating excellence in reading literacy. Poland carried out a major overhaul of its school system, which reduced the inequality between schools and raised overall performance.Germany was jolted into action when PISA 2000 revealed below-average performance and large social disparities in their results, and has been able to make progress on both fronts. Israel, Italy and Portugal have moved closer to the OECD average and Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Turkey are among the countries with the most impressive gains even if from very low starting levels of performance. For the first time, PISA provides us with a metric to see how the global talent pool is changing and how countries are racing to the top.


The report shows that the best performing education systems have some common defining qualities that we hope influence effective education policies. These qualities include:

  • Embracing diversity in student capacities, interests, and social background with individualised approaches to learning.
  • Setting clear and ambitious standards that are shared across the system.
  • Moving towards policy-making processes in which teachers and administrators have more control over the way resources are used, and collaborate on what they believe good practice to be.
  • And last, but not least, ensuring that every student can benefit from high quality learning. 


For those of you who voted on last month’s Raise Your Hand tool, you’ll happy with the results. Many of the outcomes of PISA mirrored the winning five Raise Your Hand Ideas ideas, including the importance of equal access to education for all students, and more individualised approaches to learning. PISA vindicates these perspectives, and backs up your ideas with solid data.


This round of PISA results offers governments all around the world many good reasons to move from data to action. While most countries commit to education, the true test comes when these commitments are put into practice. Given the current economic and budgetary climate, the challenges are daunting but the importance of delivering high quality education for all is greater than ever before. The OECD will continue to support governments’ efforts to rise to this challenge, together.


Go here to read about and access the PISA results.


Join the discussions on PISA (link to discussion boards)

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