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Demystifying International Tests: What Makes the PISA Special?

Hint: It's not about comparing students across nations.

If you've heard about how American students are scoring lower than their international peers on standardized tests, you've probably heard about the PISA. (No, it's not an exam about a famous Italian tower that leans.) The Program for International Student Assessment is a test that's given every three years to measure and compare the achievement of 15-year-olds across the globe.


It's a good idea to get familiar with the PISA because we'll probably hear more about its influence in U.S. education policy in the future. Economists predict that if we boost our scores by a mere 25 points over the next 20 years, our GDP will increase by $41 trillion. So, to help us understand what the PISA is and what it does, the folks behind the test, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) just released this great animated video.

In particular, the video offers some great examples of how the PISA is all about applying what you've learned instead of just regurgitating facts. It also explains how getting caught up in merely comparing one nation to another isn't the ultimate goal of the test. Instead, the OECD sees the PISA as a tool to foster education collaboration and best practices-sharing across the globe. Of course, how its intended to be used and how it actually is used are two different things, but this is a pretty interesting look into how the PISA makers want it to be implemented.

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