http://www.epi.org/blog/pisa-day-ideological-hyperventilated-exercise/ and see Geoff Barton's article in the Guardian* http://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2013/dec/03/pisa-results-schools-policy-better-teachers and Michael Rosen http://michaelrosenblog.blogspot.co.uk/
PISA = Programme for International Student Assessment. Assessment of what? Of Maths, Science and Reading. And what kind of reading test is it? Answer: a culturally questionable multiple-choice affair. Don't take my word for it, judge for yourself: here's a 2007 example which presents students with the following text:
Did you know that in 1996 we spent almost the same amount on chocolate as our Government spent on overseas aid to help the poor?
Could there be something wrong with our priorities?
What are you going to do about it?
Students are then asked to circle which emotion this text is meant to evoke - fear, satisfaction, amusement or guilt. (The 'right' answer is guilt, by the way.) Nothing else scores (and that could be ironically indicative of what these tests are mostly about). Although, of course, there are several reasons why the tests' designers might be satisfied with, or amused by, the global impact of these tests, and a number of reasons why those of us who work in education might be fearful about the way in which their results are being used. How would you 'read' this?
I'm still not clear which cross-section of the population takes these tests, in what conditions, nor quite how it's possible to 'translate' an idea like 'government expenditure on overseas aid' in the text above, so that each student in each 'competing jurisdiction' who reads this question in their own language, is not in any way disadvantaged by the cultural distortions inherent in overseas aid (please enlighten me, if you know). It seems like the facts of these tests have been left so far behind with all the political spin that no one cares about the truth any more. '"What is truth?" said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer.' (Francis Bacon Essays 1597) Why let truth get in the way of a a good 'blob' hunt?
As for the argument that, in times of graduate unemployment, success in such tests might be an indicator of national prosperity, this seems conveniently impossible to prove, but to most sane minds, highly unlikely. The cultivation of creativity, cultural studies, practical skills and teamwork would seem a better insurance against the global challenges of shifting communities, than further attention on testing.
And anyway, 'comparisons are odious' compared to the cultivation of that which is culturally distinctive; they erode the self-confidence on which growth depends. And it is nothing short of disgraceful the way in which these test results have been brandished about to divide the world and, within nations, to set the people against each other.