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What you should know about PISA


April 26, 2022 Phil McRae, ATA Associate Co-ordinator, Research


PISA stands for Programme for International Student Assessment. It is a two-hour standardized test that attempts to assess the competencies of 15 year olds in mathematics, science and reading in 85 different countries.

The PISA test was first administered in the year 2000 by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and is conducted every three years in Alberta, with PISA 2022 being the eighth international ranking we have undertaken.

PISA 2022 has mathematics as the major domain, science and reading as the minor domains, and creative thinking as the innovative domain. Financial literacy is an additional domain assessed in some countries and in some Canadian provinces. More than 85 countries are participating in PISA 2022. As in previous cycles, Canada’s participation includes all 10 provinces.

The assessment is entirely computer based and will be administered in Alberta between April 18 and May 27, 2022. It consists of a two-hour test and a 40- to 55-minute student questionnaire. In Alberta, students will also be asked to complete a 10-minute financial literacy questionnaire. A contextual questionnaire will be administered to school principals.

The PISA assessment is a mixture of open-ended and multiple-choice questions organized in groups based on a passage based on a real-life situation. Students take various combinations of different tests and are asked (along with their school principals) to answer questionnaires on their backgrounds, schools and learning experiences, and about the broader education system and learning environment. Approximately 30,000 students selected at random from 1,000 schools across all 10 provinces will participate in the main study.

Key concerns

  • PISA ranking of countries has negative consequences for school systems. PISA has created an overreliance on standardized testing and a narrowing of learning to domains that can be easily measured. PISA’s reductionist approach should be a particular concern in Alberta where we are in the process of a redesign and implementation of new K–6 curriculum. By emphasising a narrow range of measurable aspects of education, PISA takes attention away from the less measurable or immeasurable educational objectives like physical, moral, civic and artistic development, thereby dangerously narrowing our collective imagination regarding what education is and ought to be about for Albertans.
  • The OECD, and therefore PISA, have been criticized for being biased in favour of economic interests in education systems. PISA 2022’s focus on mathematics and financial literacy may be weaponized by the UCP government.
  • Major technical flaws have been identified with the items that make up PISA testing. ❚


Results from PISA 2018 were published on Dec. 3, 2019. The Canadian reports are available at 2018.html. 


ASSOCIATION POLICY ON PISA TESTING IN ALBERTA Specific Research Projects The Government of Alberta should give notice that Alberta will not participate in future iterations of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), and Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS). [2016]

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