The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an international assessment of the skills and knowledge of 15-year-olds, who, in most countries, are nearing the end of compulsory education. 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.
Since the year 2000, PISA has been implemented every three years. The ninth cycle of PISA will take place in 2025. The number of participating countries has risen from 32 in 2000 to 90 for PISA 2025, making it one of the largest studies of its kind.
What is assessed?
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 2025, science will be the major domain. To explore the main sections of the PISA 2025 Science Framework see the OECD website here.
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 was the innovative domain in the 2022 cycle; however, Ireland and other international countries chose not to participate in the cognitive assessment. The innovative domain for PISA 2025 is Learning in the Digital World. Ireland will participate in this cognitive assessment for this cycle.
|Cycle||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 2022||Mathematics||Reading literacy, Science, Creative thinking|
|PISA 2025||Science||Mathematics, Reading literacy, Learning in the Digital World|
How are students assessed?
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. Adaptive testing for reading literacy and mathematics was designed and fully implemented in 2018 and 2022, respectively. For PISA 2025, adaptive testing will be implemented for the assessment of science, the major domain.
Along with assessing the achievements of students, PISA collects detailed contextual information from students, parents, teachers, and principals through the context questionnaires. In Ireland, the student, parent and school principal questionnaires will be a part of the assessment in 2025. In addition, national teacher and/or subject coordinator (department head) questionnaires for science coordinators will be included as part of the national administration of PISA 2025.
Ireland in PISA
Ireland has an excellent record of participation in all cycles of PISA: schools, students, and since 2015, students’ parents have contributed towards high responses rates. We hope to continue to maintain a strong participation rate in future cycles of PISA.
The results of PISA 2018 were published in December 2019. The Main Study for PISA 2022 (originally scheduled for 2021) was postponed for one year due to impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. Results for PISA 2022 will be released at the end of 2023.
Below is a description of recent national activities and reporting on PISA.
The Main Study of PISA took place in 2022. Students, principals, and teachers were invited to participate. The student assessment and the school questionnaire was entirely computer-based, while the parent and teacher questionnaires were paper-based. Inspectors, assisted by external technical support staff, administered PISA to students using carry-in laptops. As the PISA Main Study 2022 was delayed by one year, all data collected as part of the Field Trial in 2020 was retained until March 2022. The PISA 2022 National Report will be released in December 2023.
PISA 2022 Field Trial
The PISA 2022 Field Trial took place in 40 schools in March 2020 but it was cut short as a result of school closures due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Data was collected from 20 schools before the closures.
The PISA 2018 Main Study took place in Ireland during March and April 2018. 157 post-primary schools and over 5,000 students across the country took part. Information was also collected from parents and teachers and we would like to thank all participants in the study. We would also like to thank the 40 post-primary schools and over 2,000 students (and their parents) that took part in the PISA 2018 Field Trial in spring 2017. The national and international results for PISA 2018 were released in December 2019.
PISA 2018 Field Trial
The PISA 2018 Autumn Study took place in Ireland during autumn 2018. In total, 57 post-primary schools and just under 2,000 students across the country took part. PISA is normally conducted during the spring time (March/April); however, the Department of Education is concerned about the burden placed on schools at that time of the year. This study assessed the feasibility of carrying out PISA during the autumn instead of spring for future cycles.
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