The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an international assessment of the skills and knowledge of 15-year-olds. PISA assesses students’ performance on ‘real-life’ tasks that are considered relevant for effective participation in adult society and for life-long learning. PISA is a project of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In Ireland, the project is managed by the Educational Research Centre on the behalf of the Department of Education and Skills.
Since the year 2000, PISA has been implemented every three years, and 2021 is the eighth cycle of the study. The number of countries participating in PISA has increased from 32 in 2000, to 88 in 2021, making it one of the largest studies of its kind.
The subject areas or ‘domains’ assessed by PISA are reading literacy, mathematics and science. In each cycle of PISA, one of these domains is the main focus (‘major domain’) of the assessment, with less emphasis placed on the remaining domains (‘minor domains’). In 2021, mathematics will be the major domain, and a new interactive website outlines the updated PISA mathematics framework (https://pisa2021-maths.oecd.org/).
In more recent cycles of PISA, additional innovative domains have been developed and made available to countries to administer to students. For example, Creative Problem Solving was a minor domain in 2012 (Ireland participated), and Global Competence was an innovative domain in 2018 (Ireland did not participate). Creative Thinking is the innovative domain in the 2021 cycle; however, Ireland and other international countries have chosen not to participate in the cognitive assessment. Ireland will, however, administer Creative Thinking questionnaire items to students as part of the context questionnaire.
||Major Domain||Minor Domains|
|PISA 2000||Reading literacy||Mathematics, Science|
|PISA 2003||Mathematics||Reading literacy, Science, Cross-curricular problem solving|
|PISA 2006||Science||Reading literacy, Mathematics|
|PISA 2009||Reading literacy||Mathematics, Science|
|PISA 2012||Mathematics||Reading literacy, Science, Creative problem solving|
|PISA 2015||Science||Mathematics, Reading literacy, Collaborative problem solving|
|PISA 2018||Reading literacy||Mathematics, Science, Global Competence|
|PISA 2021||Mathematics||Reading literacy, Science, Creative thinking|
PISA has transitioned to a computer-based assessment; since 2015, almost all participating countries, including Ireland, have administered PISA entirely by computer. In previous cycles of PISA, as well as completing paper-based assessments of reading literacy, mathematics and science, additional optional assessments of digital literacy, computer-based mathematics and problem solving were administered. Adaptive testing is possible on a computer-based platform and can improve accuracy and fairness in testing. Using a multi-stage approach, the test is adaptive to each student’s ability level – students start on a common set of items, and then, at intervals, progress onto items of a lower or higher difficulty, based on their previous performance. In 2018, adaptive testing for reading literacy was fully implemented, and an adaptive design is planned for the PISA 2021 assessment of mathematics.
Along with assessing the achievements of students, PISA collects detailed contextual information from students, parents, teachers, and principals through the context questionnaires. In Ireland, a national teacher or subject co-ordinator questionnaire is implemented in each cycle. The parent questionnaire was first administered as part of PISA in Ireland in 2015, and will again be a part of the assessment in 2021. In addition, a national teacher questionnaire for mathematics teachers is to be included as part of the national administration of PISA 2021.