On today’s show we continue our conversation on PISA. Last week Bob Lingard walked us through the history of the OECDs work in education and compared the main PISA test with the new service called “PISA for Schools.”

Today, Keita Takayama provides a critical reading of the so-called “PISA debate.” This debate started in May 2014 when a group of scholars published an open letter in the Guardian newspaper to Andreas Schleicher, the head of OECD’s education and skills division, criticizing PISA. Two subsequent response letters (here and here) were published in the Washington Post responding to the open letter and critiquing PISA in ways left out of the original letter.

Keita Takayama, a professor at the University of New England in Australia, takes us through the arguments in these various letters. By looking at who wrote the letters, Prof. Takayama scratches the surface of the arguments to locate hidden agendas. In the end, he sees the so-called “PISA debate” as provincial.

Citation: Takayama, Keita, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 19, podcast audio, July 21, 2016. https://www.freshedpodcast.com/keitatakayama/

Transcript, Translation, and Resources: Read more

PISA stands for the Programme for International Student Assessment. It is a test administered by the OECD in many countries around the world. You might have heard about the test because of the international league tables comparing systems of education that are created after the results are released. In recent years, Finland and Shanghai have come out on top, unleashing a wave study trips to those place by policymakers who want to learn the secret of good education.

Bob Lingard, a Professorial Research Fellow at the University of Queensland, has spent many years researching the rise of global education governance (see for example this article). He sees the PISA for Schools program as part of the expanding work in education by the OECD. He spoke with me in mid-January about his recent article and recounts the historical evolution of the OECD’s work in education. He ultimately questions the comparative value of the PISA for Schools program.

Tests are part and parcel of the schooling experience. If a child goes to school, then I’m sure he or she will, at some point in time, have to take a test. But the nature and purpose testing has changed and seen a rapid expansion in the past thirty years. Tests have become increasingly standardized and connected to high-stake outcomes. Moreover, standardized testing has become the main tool by which policymakers measure education quality.

Standardized tests are both a national and international issue. The rise of international assessments, such as the Programme for International Student Assessment and the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, have created a world in which governments at all levels rely on standardized testing. For students, testing — and the preparation for testing — has become commonplace.


My guest today, Will Smith, calls the worldwide phenomenon of standardized assessment the “Global testing culture.” Will is a senior associate with RESULTS Educational Fund, where he is developing the Right to Education Index. He completed his PhD in Educational Theory and Policy and Comparative International Education at Pennsylvania State University and has worked both as a US public school teacher and a fellow at the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development.

In his new edited collection, entitled, The Global Testing Culture shaping education policy, perceptions, and practice, which will be published this year by Symposium, Will argues that the reinforcing nature of a global testing culture leads to an environment where testing becomes synonymous with accountability, which becomes synonymous with education quality.