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PISA 2018 Test to Include Global Competency Assessment

By Casey Bayer on December 12, 2017 12:01 AM
Project Zero at Harvard Graduate School of Education helped create the new framework, which will focus on assessing students’ global competencies and seek to inform how educators and schools can better cultivate these skills.

For the first time, the triennial Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test, which measures the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students worldwide, will include an assessment of students’ global competence. Veronica Boix Mansilla, principal investigator with Project Zero at Harvard Graduate School of Education, collaborated with The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and a team of experts charged with developing the framework for the new version for the upcoming 2018 PISA test. The new framework and emphasis on global competencies is part of a larger effort to incorporate the assessment of social skills and abilities into PISA tests.

“What makes the new OECD PISA framework exciting, in my view, is not only its clear potential to help us gauge how 15-year-olds today think about pressing issues of local, global, and intercultural significance, but also its power to inform educational practice in every region of the world,” said Boix Mansilla. “Teachers, school leaders, policymakers, teacher educators will find in it a compelling and research-informed response to the question of, ‘What matters most for all young people to learn in a world or growing diversity and complexity?’ The framework casts global competence comprehensively, as involving cognitive, socio-emotional, and civic dispositions. It invites us to consider a timely purpose for education: the cultivation of competencies that will lead to more inclusive and sustainable societies.”

Boix Mansilla worked closely with OECD analyst Mario Piacentini and a small expert team, including doctors Martyn Barrett, Darla Deardorff, and Hye-Won Lee in the construction of the framework. 

The new PISA test will include two parts that students will complete: a cognitive assessment and a background questionnaire to assess their global competencies. The OECD PISA framework defines global competence as: “the capacity to examine local, global, and intercultural issues, to understand and appreciate the perspectives and world views of others, to engage in open, appropriate and effective interactions with people from different cultures, and to act for collective well-being and sustainable development.”

The cognitive assessment, according to OECD PISA’s paper, “Preparing our youth for an inclusive and sustainable world,” will measure students’ abilities to engage with news articles about global issues, recognize outside influences on world views, understand how to communicate with others in an intercultural fashion, and identify and compare different courses of action to address global issues.

Mario Piacentini, lead OECD analyst on this initiative, said that "with this cognitive test, we are really trying to look at how 15-year-olds can process critically information on key sustainability issues that matter for the world at large and for their own life. We are asking them to use and connect multiple sources of evidence, identify biases and gaps in information, and manage conflicting arguments. A second important set of cognitive skills we are assessing in the test relate to the capacities to recognize the perspectives of other people and the factors that might influence them, including their access to information and their geographic and cultural context. These are crucial skills for young people to build an immunity to fake news and to challenge the cultural biases and stereotypes that erode social cohesion all around the world."

The questionnaire will evaluate how familiar students are with global issues, how developed their linguistic and communication skills are, to what extent they respect people from different cultural backgrounds, and the opportunities they currently have in their schools to develop global competencies. The questionnaire will also inform about how teachers are being prepared to cultivate global competencies.

"Global competence is much more than knowledge and cognitive skills," Piacentini continued.  "It is very much about using one's understanding of the world to interact respectfully across cultural differences and to take action for improving other people's lives. With the questionnaires we will be able to collect rich international data on important social skills and attitudes, such as adaptability, openness, respect, and civic engagement. We will also learn a lot about what schools and teachers in different countries are doing to promote the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values that make people globally competent.”

Celebrating its 50th anniversary, Project Zero is a uniquely suited partner in this endeavour. Project Zero’s research has been based in understanding the nature and development of human cognitive potentials, ranging from intelligence, ethics, creativity, and thinking.

“Understanding global competencies — how learners think across cultures, take local and global perspectives, and act ethically — is a vital piece of our research today,” said Daniel Wilson, director and principal investigator at Project Zero. “The opportunity to work with policymakers such as the OECD is an important step to ensure that any assessment develops these potentials with integrity.”

At an event at HGSE on Tuesday, Andreas Schleicher, director for education and skills, and special adviser on education policy to the secretary-general at OECD, who led this effort in coordination with countries participating in PISA and the OECD Secretariat, will introduce the OECD PISA framework and assessment strategy.

“The more interdependent the world becomes, the more we rely on collaborators and orchestrators who are able to join others in work and life,” said Schleicher ahead of the event. Schools need to prepare students for a world in which people need to work with people of diverse cultural origins, and appreciate different ideas, perspectives and values; a world in which people need to develop trust to collaborate across such differences; and a world in which people’s lives will be affected by issues that transcend national boundaries. The PISA assessment of Global Competence provides a yardstick to assess to what extent education systems are living up to that expectation.”

A panel discussion, “Perspectives and Complexities in Educating for Global Competence,” will follow Schleicher’s remarks, with HGSE Professor Howard Gardner, senior director of Project Zero; Kate Ireland, director of global education from the District of Columbia Public Schools; Siva Kumari, director general of International Baccalaureate; and Joan Soble, a retired teacher from Cambridge Rindge and Latin School. Boix Mansilla moderated.

“We are deeply honored to host the launch of this timely OECD PISA work at Project Zero, Harvard Graduate School of Education,” said Boix Mansilla. “Ultimately, the strength of our democracies, the inclusivity of our economic growth and the sustainability of life on our planet will pivot, in no small measure, on our capacity to cultivate global competence among all children and youth. Few tasks would seem more urgent or inspiring.”    

The new global competence framework will inform the PISA test given in 2018, with the first findings to come in 2019 as part of the results analysis.