PISA and the limitations of measuring the abstract operations of the mind

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Pisa is an international school assessment system run by the OECD, an organization whose primary interest is the economic development of countries. It is administered to 15-year-olds in the areas of Maths Science and reading skills. Many countries believe this to be a significant measuring instrument of how well one’s whole school system is performing, including, incorrectly in my opinion, at Gymnasium level. Swedens performance until recently has been deteriorating in relation to other countries but in other international tests in the area of the social sciences, Sweden has maintained its relatively high ranking. This raises two questions. Why the difference in performance in the social sciences? Are the assessments in the PISA tests valid indicators of levels of knowledge or are they more focussed on a collection of high-level skills? I ask this latter question because of Germany’s experience of also falling in the rankings of PISA and receiving criticism as a result which demanded the restructuring of their school system. Germany refused this analysis and mysteriously rose in the rankings a few years later. What happened? Well, apparently they taught their students how to take the PISA tests. A process which did not take very long and produced the desired results. This confirms my conviction that PISA is assessing high-level skills and not abstract knowledge. I do not for one moment deny that there are problems with the educational systems all over the world because of the global educational reform movement(GERM) but PISA is a distraction, forcing us to talk about the symptoms and not the cause of the problems. In my opinion Finland’s educational system has been the least affected by GERM(but, they may be showing signs of infection in their latest school reform package). Conversations with Finnish people about why Finland do so well in the PISA tests emphasize the principle that the system is very good at detecting weak pupils very early and providing them with very qualified assistance. Also pupils with high levels of abstract knowledge, as a matter of fact, find it easier to perform well on concrete high-level skills so, this might be the case with both German and Finnish students. I find it very interesting that PISA does not attempt to test in the humanistic/social sciences areas because it is in these domains that one can most clearly see the difference between high-level concrete skills and abstract knowledge. It is also interesting that the test is administered to 15 year olds and not to older Gymnasium students where of course this distinction between abstract and concrete operations is more evident. PISA has responded to the criticisms of their reading tests as being too- skills oriented, too concrete, with a document that promises more complex scenario based texts for the 2018 tests which will be testing comprehension of more general themes. We will see if they manage to test abstract logical skills in this humanistic area. I believe this argument above supports my general thesis that what is problematic in the Swedish gymnasium is a lack of the development of abstract operations in the humanities subjects This would explain the experience of university lecturers in the humanities who are asked by the students for more and more help with their assignments.
But why the difference in performance in the non-Pisa tests for the Swedish “grundskola” pupils? I am investigating this but one possible avenue of exploration is that the high-level concrete skills of these non-PISA tests are more suited to the kind of high-level concrete skills which are taught in the Swedish Grundskol.