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Information for Schools

Why is PISA important? PISA is the largest international 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 2012 results will be released to the public in December 2013; also, schools that participate in PISA and meet certain participation thresholds will have the opportunity to benchmark their performance to that of other participating schools in the United States as well as around the world.

How are schools selected for participation? In PISA, each 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 PISA U.S. sample are sampled 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 students. Other countries use the same approach so that no single country will have 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 2012. In each school, 50 students will be randomly selected to participate.

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 will be representative of 15-year-old students in the country as a whole. 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.

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 representative 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 to answer school staff's questions and ensure that the assessment day will go as efficiently as possible.

What will participating in PISA 2012 involve for students? Participating in PISA involves students participating in one or two assessment sessions. In the first session, all selected students will participate in a 2-hour paper-and-pencil assessment with a combination of mathematics, reading, science, and financial literacy questions, as well as a brief questionnaire. In the second session, about half of these students will also take a 40-minute computer-based assessment of mathematics, reading or problem-solving, or a combination of these subjects. The second session will take place on the same day as the first session.

What will participating in PISA 2012 involve for schools and school staff? For the 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 assessment staff, and (c) completing a brief principal questionnaire. All other details are handled by PISA staff:

  • The entire assessment process will be undertaken 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.

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 2012 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? 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. In addition, if you have specific questions about PISA in your school, you may call PISA staff at 1-888-638-2597 or send an email to

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