The use (and misuse) of Pisa in guiding policy reform: the case of Spain
In 2013 Spain introduced a series of educational reforms explicitly inspired by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2012 results. These reforms were mainly implemented in secondary education – based upon the assumption that this is where Spain’s educational problems lie. This paper questions this assumption by attempting to identify the point where Spanish children fall behind young people in other developed counties in terms of their reading skills. Specifically, by drawing data from multiple international assessments, we are able to explore how cross-national differences in reading skills change as children age. Consideration is given to both the average level of achievement and the evolution of educational inequalities. Our conclusion is that policymakers have focused their efforts on the wrong part of the education system; educational achievement is low in Spain (and educational inequalities large) long before children enter secondary school. This study therefore serves as a note of caution against simplistic interpretation of the PISA rankings; policymakers must take a more nuanced approach when enacting important educational reforms.
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