Let’s remind ourselves of how the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) define effective teaching in their Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA):
“In its Analytical Framework (OECD, 2013), PISA defines the three dimensions of good teaching as: clear, well-structured classroom management; supportive, student-oriented classroom climate; and cognitive activation with challenging content”
This is a problem for PISA and its head, Andreas Schleicher. Why? Because data from PISA consistently proves that a ‘student-oriented classroom climate’ as defined by the OECD, does not represent effective teaching. In both 2012 and 2015, practices associated with this definition were linked to worse outcomes on PISA assessments.
Schleicher and the OECD have therefore been aware of this paradox for some time. Rather than rethinking their commitment to a ‘student-oriented classroom climate’ or the way they define this, they appear to have been casting about for different measures that support their original view.
For instance, in 2015, PISA introduced an eccentric test of ‘collaborative problem solving’. Perhaps all those student-oriented activities may have been detrimental to academic outcomes but would prepare students better for this assessment? No. The same countries that top the convention PISA tables also performed the best on collaborative problem solving:
“A comparison of the mean scores in collaborative problem solving, science, reading and mathematics shows that the same countries/economies – Canada, Hong Kong (China), Japan, Korea and Singapore – are found at the top of each set of rankings. Indeed, scores in the four domains are highly correlated. On average across OECD countries, student performance in collaborative problem solving shows a correlation of 0.77 with performance in science, 0.74 with performance in reading, and 0.70 with performance in mathematics.”
Never mind, perhaps a complete overhaul of the way PISA is run may do the job.
This seems to be the thinking at the OECD, with the Sydney Morning Herald reporting major changes ahead which involve, “…moving away from traditional knowledge testing and adding more problem solving elements to the literacy, numeracy and science tests, and introducing a new social skills test.” Given that PISA items already attempt to assess problem-solving rather than knowledge recall, I will be interested to see what these new assessments look like.
Demonstrating the fact that he still does not accept the relatively simple point that knowledge is what you think with, Schleicher also commented, “We’re thinking about 2030, knowledge about maths and science is easy to digitise but the future is different, the modern world doesn’t reward us for what we know, we can get that from Google, but how we apply knowledge.”
At this point, I wonder whether the wonks at the OECD are already in possession of some preliminary findings from PISA 2018 and, if so, whether these findings are in any way driving this new push. Unfortunately for Schleicher, attempts to decouple knowledge and skills with the aim of focusing on the latter have repeatedly failed and look likely to fail again. A good problem solver can solve a problem because he or she knows stuff relevant to solving that problem.