Those pesky PISA figures – Full Fact Org article gets response from DfE

Janet Downs's picture
Controversy over Mr Gove’s use of the discounted OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2000 UK results rumbles on. The Department for Education has responded to an article by Full Fact Org about the contentious data being quoted in Ms Vorderman’s Maths report. The DfE response is included as an update at the foot of the Full Fact Org article.

The DfE defends the use of the figures by quoting from a report  commissioned by the last Government from Southampton University. However, the Southampton report only looked at data for England yet its conclusion is being used to justify the use of the PISA 2000 figures for the whole of the UK. The report found that England failed to reach the minimum school participation rates in PISA 2000 but said the pupil participation rate had been met. PISA requires a pupil participation rate of 80% - England’s rate was 81%. It is on this slender majority that the Government justifies its use of the discredited 2000 figures.

A DfE Briefing Paper  in December 2010 warned the Government that there were “doubts about the representativeness of England’s sample in PISA 2000”, but Mr Gove, Mr Gibb and others routinely ignore the advice of their own Department. And the OECD Economic Survey for the United Kingdom (2011) repeated its caveat that the 2000 PISA figure for the UK should be used with “some caution, due to sampling problems”.

Nevertheless, the DfE continues to use the figures and says that they confirm an underlying downward trend for the UK. The trend is downward but it is not “plummeting” as Mr Gove contends especially when one looks at the scores . In 2009 the scores for the UK were as follows (the 2006 figures are in brackets):

Reading 494 (495)

Mathematics 492 (498)

Science 514 - a score significantly above the OECD average (501)

However, these are the scores for the UK as a whole. The scores for England were higher: Reading 495, Mathematics 493, and Science 515. If England were judged on its reading score then its international league table position would rise from 25th out of 65 to 23rd equal (with Denmark and Chinese Tapei).

It should be remembered that the misrepresented PISA figures for the UK are being used to push through radical reforms in England, reforms which Mr Gove says are justified by evidence that the UK is slipping catastrophically down league tables. But the evidence base is shaky.
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Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 14/08/2011 - 10:45

Typo alert: the UK PISA 2006 figure for Science is missing. It is 515. England, taken separately from the rest of the UK, scored 515 in Science in 2009, which is the same score achieved by the UK in science as a whole in 2006. A score of 515 is significantly above the OECD average.

The scores for England in 2006 were: Reading 496, Mathematics 495, and Science 516. In 2009, as stated above, the scores for England were 495, Maths 493, and Science 515. These figures show a fall of one in Reading, two in Mathematics and one in Science. When looking at the scores for England from 2006 to 2009, Mr Gove's claim of plummeting standards is a little weak.

(Note: the above document, dated 2007, was published before the OECD discovered that the 2000 figures were flawed. It therefore contains the disputed 2000 figures. These should be disregarded as the OECD has warned.)

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