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Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Guest Post - PISA Cake

The below post has been written by Chris Wadley (Head of Faculty of Communication)

You might have read or seen the results of the latest PISA test in the press recently, and noticed that England was accused of stagnating (or even going backwards) in the global ranking for schools. If not, it was reported like this:

The PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) test is an international exam taken by about 50,000 students. Basically, it tests reading, maths or science in rotation, and each country participating has to put forward 5,000 students (or everyone, if the country is smaller) to be assessed. This, coupled with questionnaires about living conditions and a bit of mathematical jiggling of the figures, allows a league table of how well different countries have done in comparison to each other to be drawn up – although the results are controversial, with Singapore and Hong Kong always scoring highly despite not actually being countries!

The IPACA English Department decided it would be an interesting exercise, given that our students have never, ever been asked to participate but get lumped in with the “must do better” results, to sit one of the Reading tests and see how we did.

Year 10 duly sat down in early December, and worked through the questions on a past paper. Many were multiple choice, asking students to confirm if a library would be open at a certain time by consulting the published hours of business or to work out which items a customer had purchased by looking at a receipt. Others asked for short answers, such as what action the reader would take on receiving a letter about charity, or longer responses, like reading a story about a court case in a foreign country and comparing it to what would have happened in the same circumstances in this country.

This was quite a useful exercise, as it not only demonstrated to the students what the international standard was, but also provided good practice for the Language GCSE the students will take next year, increasingly based as it is on reading comprehension. Several youngsters, for instance, thought that a library open from 9am to 8pm would be shut at 6pm just because that time wasn’t explicitly mentioned on the timetable!

The exam took about 90 minutes, and was then marked out of 28 and averaged as a mean of all the students sitting it, before being turned into a score out of 800.

The average score in the actual PISA test this year was about 17 out of 28. Our students averaged 23 out of 28. Not only was this above average, but beat the score for the top 3 entries on the league table, who averaged about 20.

Now, obviously our 124 students didn’t quite match the 5,000 that most countries enter (although Iceland and Greenland couldn’t find that many 15 year olds either), and the averages have been worked out by Mr Wadley who isn’t the world’s authority on the “Rasch model of item response theory” that PISA say they use to weight the questions.

But the evidence would seem to suggest that if Portland broke away from the mainland, declared itself an independent nation, and just entered IPACA for the PISA, we’d score in the 650s for reading and be declared the brainiest nation in the world.

Hey, if Shanghai can get away with it…!

Contributed by -

Chris Wadley
Head of Faculty of Communication
Royal Manor Campus
Weston Road

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