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08/10/11

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Gove rates PISA so highly that England will NOT take part in two elements of the 2012 tests

Next year is not just Olympic year – it is also when 15-year-olds in 66 countries take part in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey.  PISA tests are set every three years by the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and governments use information from the tests to plan education policies.  Mr Gove has said that PISA is a benchmark by which a country’s performance in education can be measured.

Mr Gove says he wants his policies to be underpinned by evidence.   You would think, therefore, that he would be keen for English children to participate fully in the next round of PISA tests.  However, the TES has learnt that English children will not take part in two new tests to be introduced in 2012.  The official reason is that the Department for Education (DfE) doesn’t want to “overburden schools”.

So what are the two new optional tests?  One is on financial literacy.  To be fair to Mr Gove the financial literacy tests will only be taken by 18 of the 66 territories expected to participate in the main PISA tests on maths, reading and science.  The second optional test is on problem-solving.

Andreas Schleicher, the OECD official whom Mr Gove described as “the most important man in English education”, is keen on the new problem-solving test.  He explained that “we need to assess problem-solving abilities as governments around the world seek to equip young people with the skills they need for life and employment.”   OECD says these abilities can be measured through “progressive teaching methods, like problem-based learning and inquiry-based learning”.

Mr Gove is not a fan of such approaches.  He criticised the “time and effort spent on cultivating abstract thinking skills” in a speech because it detracted from “essential” subject knowledge.  And that’s probably the reason why English pupils will not take the optional problem-solving test – because the English education system, with its excessive emphasis on exam results, is skewed against the development of these important skills.

Mr Gove says he wants to know how English pupils fare against 15-year-olds in other countries.  He should, therefore, ensure that English pupils take all parts of the 2012 tests.  If PISA is to be a benchmark then England can’t opt out of the bits in which it is likely to achieve poor results.

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  1. JimC says:

    You are more likely to solve problems successfully when you actually know what you are talking about so I’d say subject knowledge is pretty “essential”. Schliecher’s rubbish opinions are a charter for ignorance.

  2. kalinski1970 says:

    Er because almost everything that Mr Gove does or says is a contradiction on the last thing he said or did.

    • Kalinski1970 – you’re right, Mr Gove often contradicts himself, the pity is he doesn’t recognise it. So when he says he wants evidence to underpin his policies, he doesn’t mean he will base his policies on evidence. He actually means he will choose the evidence that seems to back up his policies and ignores the rest (as a trawl through messages on this site will testify). And then there are his U-turns – Bookstart, sport in schools – and only last week he decided that languages should be taught in primary schools (a “slam-dunk case”, he declared. Can’t he express himself better than that?). Perhaps he forgot that one of the first things he did when coming into office was to abandon plans to introduce languages into primary schools. If he’d let the original plans go ahead then languages would have been taught in primary schools by this year. So Mr Gove’s own actions have put back the very thing he now wants (and at the same time have lost primary language advisers their jobs).

      http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6115602

      • JimC says:

        All this would be fine Janet if writers on this website didn’t cherry pick evidence or engage in u-turns (Old Andrew has written about this on his blog).

  3. So why is problem solving important? Prior knowledge will inform the analysis of a problem but won’t on its own solve the problem. Someone faced with a problem needs to evaluate the problem, break it down into manageable sections, consider possible ways of approaching and resolving these parts, and then decide on the most appropriate solution.

    Problem solvers need to be adept at analysis and be creative. They need to think logically and persist even when faced with difficulties.

    It will be interesting to discover how OECD intends to test problem-solving skills. I presume, but may be wrong, that the OECD will set a scenario which pupils will have to solve. But will the pupils work individually or in groups? How will the pupils be assessed – on the solution, the process, or both?

    It’s a pity that English pupils won’t be taking part. Perhaps Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will enter pupils.

    • “So why is problem solving important? Prior knowledge will inform the analysis of a problem but won’t on its own solve the problem. Someone faced with a problem needs to evaluate the problem, break it down into manageable sections, consider possible ways of approaching and resolving these parts, and then decide on the most appropriate solution.”

      You’ve described how one might go about solving a problem not why problem solving is important.

      “Problem solvers need to be adept at analysis and be creative. They need to think logically and persist even when faced with difficulties.”

      The more knowledgeable you are the more adept at analysis you’ll be – you’ve admitted as much. From what I’ve heard from Ken Robinson solving problems seems at odds with fostering creativity and I’d argue that Ken is against logical thinking as well. I’ve no idea how one would formally teach children a behavioural trait like persistance.

  4. Since writing the above I’ve discovered that PISA did an optional problem solving test in 2003. These are the results:

    1 In some countries 70% of students could solve relatively complex problems, while in others less than 5% could do so.
    2 In most countries, more than 10% were unable to solve basic problems.
    3 On average in OECD countries, half of the students were unable to solve problems that are more difficult than basic problems.

    Extensive research into problem solving since 2003, together with advances in computer assessment and software development have led OECD to develop a new framework for problem solving. PISA 2012 problem solving will assess individual competency. OECD recognises that collaborative problem solving skills are essential for employment but “significant management challenges still stand in the way of collaborative tasks becoming a feature of large-scale international surveys”.

    I am now more convinced that English pupils should take part.

    http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/8/42/46962005.pdf

    • JimC says:

      Firstly would you care to enlighten us about which countries have students that are better at ‘problem solving’ than others?

      Secondly one of the examples of problem solving given in the OECD document relates to coming up with a solution for a basketball team in a tournament – essentially it is a puzzle. Now I’ve got better at solving su duko puzzles by doing lots of su duko puzzles and I suppose my father has given me some pointers along the way. However despite my hours of practice my improved ability to solve su doku problems has not really improved my chances of designing an efficient fusion reactor and thus resolving the energy crisis.

      My point is that if we make generic problem solving an aim of education at the expense of subject knowledge we’ll end up with generation of people who are good at puzzles and little else.

      If you can explain why a whole generation of children who are good at puzzles but know nothing is desirable I may revise my position.

  5. OECD also found that many countries agreed that problem solving expertise was an important educational objective and explained why it was important:

    “Problem solving competency is a central objective within the educational programmes of many countries. The acquisition of increased levels of problem solving competency provides a basis for future learning, for effective participation in society and for conducting personal activities. Students need to be able to apply what they have learned to new situations.”

    These countries include top performing nations in PISA 2009. In Finland “problem solving has been one of the general overall goals in the Finnish curricula.” Hong-Kong and Shanghai have recently focused classroom activities towards problem solving. Singapore introduces creative and problem solving skills in the kindergarten curriculum. And Canada described problem solving as “a more advanced skill that may be indicative of preparation for advanced degrees and ultimately a country’s innovative capacity.”

    It was depressing that when I looked for problem solving in English education, one of the top Google results referred to a speech made by Mr Gove in which he linked problem solving with military training. It appears, then, that the only place to apply this skill is on the battlefield (or the playing fields of Eton, perhaps?). No wonder Mr Gove is reluctant to allow English pupils to take the optional 2012 PISA test.

    Evidence:

    http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/8/42/46962005.pdf

    http://www.unige.ch/math/EnsMath/Rome2008/WG2/Papers/PEHKON.pdf

    http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2035586,00.html#ixzz1aHfeAs3L

    http://www.moe.gov.sg/education/preschool/

    http://www.conferenceboard.ca/hcp/details/education/student-low-level-problem-solving-skills.aspx

    http://www.education.gov.uk/inthenews/speeches/a00197684/michael-gove-to-the-durand-academy

    • JimC says:

      “Problem solving competency is a central objective within the educational programmes of many countries. The acquisition of increased levels of problem solving competency provides a basis for future learning, for effective participation in society and for conducting personal activities. Students need to be able to apply what they have learned to new situations.”

      Agreed this is a desirable goal but I really don’t think that Singapore are educating their children in a way that you’d find desirable.

  6. Does everyone on this site properly understand the difference between TIMMS (which is an international testing and rating system which focuses on the knowledge based curriculum) and PISA (which is an international testing and rating system which focuses on assessing applied problem solving skills.

    I suspect Gove doesn’t.

    The new recommended NCs are due in January aren’t they? The online consultations (due in September) were postponed. Does anyone know when they are being rescheduled for? Or are they being cancelled so that no-one gets the chance to object to the deletion of all the personal skills and problem solving aspects of the curriculum in favour of an entirely knowledge based curriculum?

    • Three major surveys which measure pupil achievement worldwide are TIMSS, PIRLS and PISA.

      TIMSS: Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, first conducted in 1995, reports every four years on the maths and science achievement of fourth (year 5) and eighth grade (year 9) pupils worldwide. The last TIMSS survey was in 2007 when England’s performance, particularly in Science, was one of the best in the world. This good news has been buried by the present government.

      http://www.nfer.ac.uk/publications/TMO01/TIMSS2007Executivesummary.pdf
      http://timss.bc.edu/index.html

      PIRLS: Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, first conducted in 2001, reports every five years on the reading achievement of fourth grade (year 5) pupils worldwide. PIRLS targets primary school pupils and assesses the reading skills needed to make the transition to “reading to learn.”

      PISA: Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), run by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) measures the knowledge and skills of 15 year-olds in reading, maths and science. PISA tests, first conducted in 2000, are taken every three years. Each PISA survey has a particular focus: in 2009 it was reading, 2006 was science. The focus of the 2012 PISA tests will be maths. In the UK only the results for 2006 and 2009 are valid. OECD found the response rate for 2003 was too small and on checking the 2000 results, which had previously been published, OECD found that these, too, were flawed. OECD has warned, therefore, that the 2000 PISA results for the UK should not be used for comparison. The government has ignored this warning and continues to compare the 2000 figures with those of 2009 to show English state education in a negative light despite the fact the UK pupils achieved the OECD average in reading and maths, and were above average for science.

      Both PISA and PIRLS focus on an expanded idea of reading, ie “reading literacy” rather than simply “reading”. Both surveys regard reading “as an interactive, constructive process and emphasise the importance of students’ ability to reflect on reading and to use reading for different purposes”.

      http://eacea.ec.europa.eu/education/eurydice/documents/thematic_reports/130EN.pdf

      http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/33/8/46624007.pdf

      http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/54/12/46643496.pdf

      • Oops re TIMSS and thanks for the info Janet.

        The last government trumpeted progress with TIMSS but having analysed TIMSS and PISA maths papers I was shocked how superficial and procedural the TIMSS tests were. It was obvious that we were going to be progressing with TIMSS while regressing with PISA given prevailing policies. The idea that Gove’s policies of focusing entirely on a knowledge based curriculum will improve PISA results is so utterly ludicrous it is jaw-dropping.

    • Re National Curriculum review – the July 2011 update on its progress said: “It remains our intention to carry out a full public consultation on the final drafts of the Programmes of Study early in 2012.” I’m not sure why the government is wasting time and money on this when it keeps trumpeting the benefits to academies of being freed from the constrictions of the very national curriculum that it prescribes. If freedom from a centrally imposed curriculum is such a benefit, then let all schools be free.

      http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/teachingandlearning/curriculum/nationalcurriculum/b0075667/national-curriculum-update-recent-review-activity

      • Complete lack of planning and co-ordination does not = freedom.

        Complete lack of planning and co-ordination = lack of the opportunity which could have been created by coherent planning and general chaos.

        It’s a bit of a problem in this government that many members do not have sufficient life experience to see this at all. It’s not just education although it seems to be most pernicious there due to the lightning speed with which so much ludicrous legislation was slammed through parliament in the first week of this government.

  7. Ah – yes, here we go- the autumn subject specific pre-consultations have been delayed until the Programs of Study have been developed to a more advanced stage. i.e. they’ve been cancelled. The notice declaring that these would take place in early September has finally been removed from the ACME website.
    http://www.acme-uk.org/the-work-of-acme/current-areas-of-focus-for-acme/curriculum-review

    So, according to your post, the pre-consultations are now also the full public consultation on the final drafts.

    High quality governance indeed.

    I’ve been to assorted ‘consultations’ so far. At all of them the level of insight from the parties leading this policy so low intelligent discussion was not possible. This was to be resolved by the now abolished pre-consultations where actual content could be discussed.

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