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Information for Schools

Why is PISA important?

PISA is the largest international comparative study of education in the world and one on which policymakers increasingly rely to provide an international benchmark for the performance of U.S. students. PISA is unique because it focuses on the application of skills and knowledge and presents problems in real-world contexts. It is intended to provide a measure of students' overall preparedness for the future, not just their academic achievement. PISA 2015 results will be released to the public in 2016; also, schools that participate in PISA and meet certain participation thresholds will have the opportunity to receive a report on their students' performance compared to that of other participating schools' students in the United States as well as around the world. In 2015, schools, teachers, and students in more than 70 other countries and educational jurisdictions will participate in PISA.

How are schools selected for participation?

In PISA, each participating country is represented by a small sample of schools and students selected to reflect its population and educational contexts and provide valid estimates of student achievement. Schools in the U.S. are selected using a scientific process from a list of all schools in the United States enrolling 15-year-old students. The selection method ensures that the U.S. participants accurately represent the whole United States, not just particular types of schools or groups of students. Other countries are required to use the same approach to selecting schools so that no country has an advantage over another in terms of the schools or students being assessed. In the United States, 240 schools have been randomly selected to take part in PISA 2015. In each school, up to 42 students will be randomly selected to participate. Also, 25 teachers in each school will also be asked to complete a teacher questionnaire.

How are students selected for PISA, and why is full school and student participation needed?

Students in PISA schools are randomly selected from a list of all 15-year-olds in the school. This is to ensure that U.S. participants are representative of all 15-year-old students in the country. Although participation is voluntary, it is important that every selected school and student participate to ensure the completeness and accuracy of results. Each school and student selected represents many others; thus, the validity of the results depends on a high participation rate. Moreover, in order for schools to receive a school-level PISA report, a minimum of 85 percent of sampled students in the school must participate.

How are schools selected for PISA contacted?

Schools will be informed of their selection in an initial mailing that includes informational materials, such as the PISA brochure and a timeline of activities. Shortly thereafter, a PISA staff member will contact each school to discuss participation, answer any questions, and begin planning. Schools also will be given access to a secure website where they can learn about every step of the PISA process, find important information regarding the administration of PISA in their school, and communicate with PISA staff. For most schools, there will be a pre-assessment visit to the school by PISA staff to answer any questions and ensure that the assessment day will go as efficiently as possible.

What will participating in PISA 2015 involve for students?

Participating in PISA involves students participating in one or two assessment sessions, totaling approximately 3 hours of time. In the first session, all sampled students will participate in a 2-hour computer-based assessment with a combination of mathematics, reading, science, and collaborative problem solving questions, as well as a 30-minute questionnaire. (Though it should be noted that no student is asked to respond to questions across all these subject areas.) In the second session, 10 or 11 of these students will also be asked to take a 1-hour computer-based assessment of financial literacy. The second session will take place on the same day as the first session. All computers, equipment, and materials needed for the student assessment are carried in by trained PISA staff from Westat, a research organization under contract to the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). NCES conducts this study under authorization in the Education Sciences Reform Act of 2002 (20 U.S.C. § 9543) and approval of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget under OMB #1850-0755.

What will participating in PISA 2015 involve for schools and staff?

For a school, participating in PISA requires (a) working with PISA staff to schedule a testing time, (b) designating a staff member to act as a liaison with the PISA staff, (c) coordinating with the PISA staff to help sampled teachers complete the online teacher questionnaire and (d) completing a principal questionnaire. All other details are handled by PISA staff.

The entire assessment process will be undertaken by trained staff from Westat; schools only need to provide a quiet space where the assessment can be administered.

Who will see the data?

By law, the data provided by schools, staff, and students may be used only for statistical purposes and may not be disclosed, or used, in identifiable form for any other purpose except as required by law (20 U.S.C. § 9573). Reports of the findings from PISA 2015 will not identify participating districts, schools, students, or staff. Individual responses will be aggregated with those from other participants to produce summary statistics and reports.

What if I have additional questions?

If you have questions about PISA in your school, you may call PISA staff at 1-888-638-2597 or send an email to Examples of PISA questions can be found here. Examples of reports from earlier cycles of PISA can be found here. For other information or questions, see the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) here, or you can use the "Contact Us" button at the top of the page.

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National Center for Education Statistics -
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