27 February 2015

Diversification of PISA survey results – lower secondary schools in Poland provide equal opportunities

Poland is one of OECD countries which managed to considerably improve students’ results in years 2000-2009 and at the same time to significantly reduce differences between results achieved in various schools, that is to equalise educational opportunities of students. Smaller differences between results of various schools can be linked to the education system reform of 1999. Introduction of lower secondary schools postponed by a year the decision of young people on choosing schools with different profiles and varying efficiency in developing key competences. The PISA survey indicates a significant improvement of competences of Polish students in years 2000-2009. The overall increase in results was caused by a lower number of low achievers. They were the ones who benefited from one year longer homogenous general education thanks to implementation of lower secondary schools.

Periodical publication “PISA in focus 27” analyses to what extent students’ achievements depend on the school they attend.

Quality and efficiency of education systems is assessed in several dimensions. The most frequently quoted data are average results obtained in international comparative surveys (as PISA). But analysis of the distribution of results and how big differences between the lowest and the highest results are is as important as this simple comparison of average results.

In order to pursue an effective education policy, more detailed analyses which make it possible to conclude what factors could influence students’ results are useful.

One of the analysed aspects is diversification of individual results of students, in particular, to what extent differences between students’ achievements are linked to differences between schools. If differences between students’ results depend mostly on the type of school they attend it means that the education system selects students somehow (formally or not). There are schools where “good” students predominate, as well as such schools where the percentage of low achievers is relatively higher. Many analyses indicate that selection has no good influence on low achievers. A good school works effectively with students who have problems in learning the whole material as well as those extraordinarily talented. Systems in which differences between average results of students from various schools are modest (which is connected with greater diversification at one school, in general) are more open and aim at providing equal opportunities for students with various background.

In OECD countries, ca. 60% of differences between students’ results at the national level is the effect of differences between students attending the same school. The other 40% results from differences between schools.

A positive correlation of increasing the nationwide average result and reducing differences between schools can be noted. Among countries where students achieved good results in the PISA survey, significant differences between results obtained in various schools were noted only in 3 countries: Belgium, Japan and Holland, while in Finland they constitute less than 8% of all differences between students’ results, in Norway – 10%, in Estonia, Iceland and Poland – less than 20%.

Differences between schools’ results may be caused by various factors and do not have to be a sign of system disparities. However, they can be a sign of unacceptable social segregation if they are connected with social and financial status of students or the fact that they come from disfavoured social groups.

PISA watches changes in results achieved by students in particular countries over time. Among OECD countries, the average diversification of students’ results in reading decreased by 3% between 2000 and 2009. In most countries where overall improvement of students’ results was noted, it is to be linked with better results of low achievers. It is worth noting that among OECD member states which significantly improved their results in years 2000-2009, only Poland noted a considerable decrease in results diversification between schools – 20%, while the average for OECD countries is 42%. This is interpreted as a success of Polish education system since it has proved that a significant improvement of learning results by providing opportunities as equal as possible and not by selecting students is possible.

There is no doubt that smaller differences between results of various schools in Poland is the effect of the education system reform. The reform was implemented successively. It started in 1999 but in 2000, when the first PISA survey was conducted, 15-year-old students were the last one who had learned in the old system. They attended first grades of post-primary schools (general schools, technical schools and basic vocational schools). Whereas in 2003 (as well as 2006, 2009), 15-year-olds were (in the vast majority) students of the last grade of the lower secondary school, this is before they crossed the selection threshold of upper secondary schools.

It is obvious that differences between achievements of students from particular lower secondary schools are smaller than they were between basic vocational schools and general high schools. In 2000, the average result in the part of the PISA survey focusing on reading literacy obtained by students of general high schools was 544 points, of secondary vocational schools – 478 points, and of basic vocational schools – 353 points.

It should be clearly emphasised that PISA shows a significant increase in competences of Polish students. Is this a result of introduction of lower secondary schools? It is difficult to find a clear answer. But it can be certainly stated that higher average result in the country was caused by a lower number of low achievers, who – as indicated – especially benefited from one year longer homogenous, common general education.


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