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Commentary: What the New PISA Study Means for Our Communities

<p>We must invest in parents if we want to better-educate our children.</p>
Globe on Desk

As an active dad of three kids, I appreciate when someone points out important information published about what's needed to educate our children well. If there is one educational report this month that families should learn about, it's the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) study that was released simultaneously in dozens of countries on December 3.

Why is this study so important? While the media will focus on "keeping score” (how U.S. students perform academically compared to the rest of the world), it's the information beneath the headlines that is more useful. And, there is a new opportunity to personalize the information for your school and community.

Created by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the PISA is administered in more than 65 nations. The PISA evaluates how 15-year-old students problem-solve, how they perform in math, science, reading, and, for the first time, how they stack up to their peers in financial literacy.

The PISA results are a powerful tool, explaining how American students and schools compare to their international counterparts on a broad range of real-world skills and offer clues about why some countries do so much better than others preparing their students for success. The study also includes a questionnaire that captures key information about student and parental attitudes toward learning and education.

The information that can be learned from the PISA study is especially important given the changing nature of today’s jobs. In the 1970s, one in four new jobs required more than a high school education. Today, it’s nearly two in three. Families recognize this change, which is why 90 percent of American families expect their children to complete college; yet, most of our students don't. While America has made progress on some educational measures, we haven't been keeping pace with our own educational aspirations or with those of many other countries.

The 2009 PISA results showed that American students from every economic background were lagging behind peers in a sizable number of countries. Students from middle-class and even affluent backgrounds in the United States were outperformed by their counterparts in some European and Asian countries. While we face an urgent challenge to better prepare our low-income youth for success, the facts show that every community has a stake in raising the academic bar and better educating all of our students.

While the PISA offers analyses across countries, there is also a new opportunity for all U.S. high schools to get involved. Schools can now take a school-level version of the PISA which was piloted last year, participate in student questionnaires on perceptions and attitudes, receive useful 100-plus page reports, and join a global learning community of individual schools holding themselves to higher standards. For parents and educators weary of rote memorization and fill-in-the-bubble tests, this is an appealing empowerment tool.

Educators across the United States are signing up to participate not only in this school-level assessment and student questionnaire, but also in a learning network enabling engagement and learning among participating educators and schools.

Last year's participants in the school-level pilot have already changed specific practices to better prepare students for success in college and good jobs. For example, high schools in Fairfax County, Virginia, are using the reports to inform professional development. Arroyo Grande High School in California has set new school-wide goals to ensure students are developing critical thinking and complex problem-solving skills. At North Star Academy in Newark, New Jersey, educators are now showing students the connection between math and science with future jobs and have changed the sequence of courses that students take.

Across the U.S. and around the globe, we see great examples of educators and public schools stepping up to better prepare our students for success in a changing world. So, when the new PISA study comes out on December 3, take the time to read about it. And, if your own child’s or community's high school wants to learn more about participating in the school-level assessment, resources are available at