Swiss International Scientific School Dubai recently announced the results of our PISA assessments. We’re delighted with our students’ performance: they comfortably beat the average for Dubai private schools – if SISD were a country, it would rank higher than Switzerland. It has also been accurately reported that IB students outperform all other curricula represented in Dubai. Why? “To do well in PISA, students have to be able to extrapolate from what they know, think across the boundaries of subject-matter disciplines, apply their knowledge creatively in novel situations and demonstrate effective learning strategies.” (PISA 2018 Interpretations) Does this sound familiar? It should, because it is aligned with our vision, to inspire future generations “to become confident and enthusiastic lifelong learners, ready to embrace the opportunities and challenges of a global world.”
Why is this important?
The PISA, or Programme for International Student Assessment, was developed by the OECD to evaluate its member nations’ educational performance. It involves testing 15-year-old students in math, science, and language skills at a higher level than the average aptitude test.
SISD’s solid performance in the PISA results is yet another reflection of the trend that illustrates how IB students generally perform better in these standardised tests among International Schools. It also shows how schools in Dubai are doing very well overall – in fact, private schools in Dubai, taken as a group, ranked 19th out of the 79 countries in the OECD, well on target to meet the KHDA’s targets.
Do IB students generally do better at tests like PISA?
Let’s examine the results of IB students in a similar assessment, the International Schools’ Assessment (ISA). Created by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), the ISA is modeled after the PISA, and tests Grades 3-10 students from international schools, measuring performance in higher thinking and comparing these results on the international stage.
In 2009 and 2012, the International Baccalaureate commissioned the ACER to perform two separate studies, analyzing data taken from ISA assessments across 2007-2011. The objective was to determine how IB students performed against students from non-IB curricula.
In summary, the results were that the IB students performed significantly better than non-IB students, across all four fields tested by the ISA. This held true across all regions as well, with the exception of Asia/Oceania in which Grades 3, 5 and 8 students from non-IB schools outperformed IB students in Mathematical Literacy.
Another part of the study compared Grade 9 and 10 IB students’ ISA results to PISA results. Because Grade 9 and 10 students most closely resemble the target tested age of the PISA, and because the ISA’s tested fields are based on the PISA, this results in a means of comparing IB students’ performance against international benchmarks.
In this study, the results were clear – IB students do indeed outperform average results in the PISA, specifically in Math and Reading-related fields.
What is special about these results?
It’s important to note that both ISA and PISA measure higher-order thinking. They’re not aptitude tests or memorization tests – they specifically aim to evaluate students’ understanding of certain critical fields in their academics.
As the ACER explains, “Like PISA, the ISA assesses complex higher-order thinking skills because it includes open-ended questions in Mathematical Literacy, Reading and Scientific Literacy, which require students to construct responses, for example, to explain their reasoning, to find evidence or to justify their opinion.”
This means that a high degree of performance in these tests can be correlated to a strong understanding of the subject matter. One can infer that, with IB students getting greater-than-average performance, exceeding non-IB students’ performance, the IB therefore confers a deeper, more thorough understanding of core academic topics.
This can be traced back to the IB Learner Profile, where students aren’t just called on to be good test-takers, but rather must be open-minded, skilled at critical and creative thinking, and effective at communication.
In the ACER study, one component also showed that IB students had good proportions of agreement in perceptions of school life, specifically in Deep Learning and Social Connectedness, illustrating how even students feel the benefits of the IB.