Tom Loveless
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Getting Ready for PISA

The latest scores from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) will be released on December 5 at 11:00 AM Paris time (5 AM in New York City and 2AM in Los Angeles).

Here are eight facts to keep in mind before the release of the 2022 results.

  1. The test assesses 15 year olds' performance in reading, math, and science.
  2. PISA was last given in 2018. The program is on a three-year cycle but the pandemic caused postponement of the 2021 test to 2022. The first PISA was administered in 2000.
  3. Eighty-one countries (actually, "systems" as many are sub-national) took part in the 2022 assessment.
  4. U.S. students took the test in October-November, 2022. Since PISA is age-based, students are scattered across grades. Two-thirds or more of U.S. participants are in 10th grade, the first few months of their sophomore year. This should raise alarm bells when analysts construe correlations between school characteristics and PISA achievement as "school effects." Students have experienced a little more than one year of their four-year high school careers, and yet many analysts use that institution in correlational analyses.
  5. For the 2022 sample, 15 year olds were defined as those born between July 1, 2006 and June 30, 2007. At each school, up to 52 students were randomly selected from a roster of students meeting the age criterion.
  6. In 2018, the U.S. had trouble meeting the OECD's 85% target rate for school participation. Only 65% of the originally selected schools participated, rising to 76% after replacement, representing a total of 162 schools. The National Center for Educational Statistics conducted an analysis of non-response bias and found that several school demographic variables, most dealing with race and socioeconomic status, were related to non-response.
  7. The test follows a matrix design, meaning that items are drawn from a large pool of items intended to encompass the subject domain, but two students at the same school may not encounter the same items. The beauty of matrix testing, which was pioneered in the 1970s and that all large scale assessments still employ, is that subject domains can be assessed broadly without requiring a multi-hour test. The downside is that individual student and school performance cannot be compared. Aggregated results to state or national levels (or to other large groups) are valid.
  8. The assessment takes about two hours to complete. Total seat time for a PISA student is about four hours due to time devoted to directions, completing the student questionnaire, and short breaks.