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Do PISA data justify PISA-based education policy?

Luisa Araujo (Department of Human Capital and Employment, European Commission Joint Research Centre Ispra Sector, Ispra, Italy)
Andrea Saltelli (University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway) (Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain)
Sylke V. Schnepf (Competence Centre on Microeconomic Evaluation, European Commission Joint Research Centre Ispra Sector, Ispra, Italy)

International Journal of Comparative Education and Development

ISSN: 2396-7404

Article publication date: 13 February 2017




Since the publication of its first results in 2000, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) implemented by the OECD has repeatedly been the subject of heated debate. In late 2014 controversy flared up anew, with the most severe critics going so far as to call for a halt to the programme. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the methodological design of PISA and the ideological basis of scientific and policy arguments invoked for and against it.


The authors examine the soundness of the survey methodology and identify the conflicting interpretations and values fuelling the debate.


The authors find that while PISA has promoted the focus on the important subject of children's education worldwide there are legitimate concerns about what PISA measures, and how. The authors conclude that the OECD should be more transparent in the documentation of the methodological choices that underlie the creation of the data and more explicit about the impact of these choices on the results. More broadly, the authors advise caution in the attempt to derive and apply evidence-based policy in the domain of education; the authors furthermore propose an alternative model of social inquiry that is sensitive and robust to the concerns of the various actors and stakeholders that may be involved in a given policy domain.


The issues and tensions surrounding the PISA survey can be better understood in the framework of post-normal science (PNS), the application of which to the PISA controversy offers a potential solution to a stalemate.



The views expressed are purely those of the writers and may not under any circumstances be regarded as stating an official position of the European Commission.


Araujo, L., Saltelli, A. and Schnepf, S.V. (2017), "Do PISA data justify PISA-based education policy?", International Journal of Comparative Education and Development, Vol. 19 No. 1, pp. 20-34.



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