I have had a number of responses to my posts about PISA from those seeking to dismiss the inquiry learning evidence. This one pithily summarises two of the main arguments that are made:
“That fact that we assume PISA and other tests are still the best measure of learning is troubling. They typically focus on short-term recall and even under the best circumstances, I would argue that if we ask students a year later to take these tests, students, who had more experiential interactions with science would do better.”
Firstly, I am not aware of anyone claiming that PISA is ‘the best measure of learning’. It is a measure of learning and one that seems to provide some interesting results. Would we expect an imperfect measure to produce results that are opposite to those of a perfect measure or would we expect both to point in a similar direction?
I’m not a huge fan of PISA items precisely because they don’t require a large amount of technical knowledge of science. They tend to be tests of application that draw upon broad principles. You can find some of the items here.
There is a question on bird migration that describes how birds migrate together in flocks and asks students to select a reason for this. To answer correctly, you need to understand and apply the principle of evolution by natural selection.
There is a question about students investigating the vegetation on different parts of a slope. They then have to answer this open question:
“In investigating the difference in vegetation from one slope to the other, why did the students place two of each instrument on each slope?”
There is a question about meteoroids that assesses whether students can apply their understanding of gravity to identify an explanation for why the meteoroids speed up as they approach the earth.
To answer these questions, students need a broad and flexible understanding of key scientific principles. They cannot answer them by retrieving disconnected facts that they don’t understand.
The idea that the amount of inquiry learning a student reports correlates negatively with scores on such a test should certainly make advocates of inquiry pause and wonder whether their approach really is the best one for developing flexible knowledge and understanding.