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Assessing maths literacy: Learning from the PISA experience

A new book that draws on ACER’s work on one of the world’s largest international surveys is providing educators with important insights about how assessment can be used to improve learning outcomes.

As the lead contractor to the OECD in designing, managing and implementing the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) from its inception in 1997 until this year, the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) has been involved in developing PISA 2000, 2003, 2006, 2009 and 2012.

One of the world’s largest ongoing international comparative surveys, PISA now involves more than 70 participating countries.

A range of key insights from the implementation of PISA over that time have now been published in Assessing Mathematical Literacy: The PISA experience, edited by ACER Principal Research Fellow Ross Turner and Professor Emeritus Kaye Stacey, Foundation Chair of Mathematics Education at the University of Melbourne.

Mathematics expertise

Assessing Mathematical Literacy draws on the mathematics development work for PISA overseen by an expert group of mathematicians, mathematics educators, policy experts and technical experts from around the world, chaired by Professor Stacey and coordinated and managed by Mr Turner.

The book provides important insights relevant to policy makers, education system managers, assessment experts, teacher educators and teachers about how assessment can be used to inform improvement in learning outcomes from the system level to the level of individual schools and classrooms. 

The PISA background

ACER’s PISA work has drawn on its expertise in a wide range of technical and practical areas. For example, ACER research staff working in the reading, mathematics, science, financial literacy and problem solving areas have conceptualised, designed and developed assessment frameworks and assessment instruments to reflect best practice in each area in both paper-based and computer-based testing. ACER developed comprehensive survey operations procedures, and periodically trained teams around the world in how to implement the survey. ACER’s data experts have used state-of-the-art technical procedures and methods to capture, process and analyse the huge and complex volumes of data generated through PISA.

For the 2012 PISA survey, ACER led the development of paper-based tests of mathematical literacy, scientific literacy, reading literacy and financial literacy; computer-based tests of problem solving, mathematics and reading; and a number of background questionnaire instruments that generated vital information about participating students, schools and countries. Mathematics was the major assessment domain of the 2012 cycle of PISA.

Assessing mathematical literacy

The assessment of mathematical literacy involves the development of an assessment framework but also the nuts-and-bolts matter of design, development and implementation, all of which is addressed in Assessing Mathematical Literacy. Contributors to the final chapters of the book address a range of country-level perspectives from participants in PISA as to the impact it has had on mathematics education.

Global education monitoring

Beyond PISA, ACER through its Centre for Global Education Monitoring is now applying its capabilities in international surveys, drawing on the skills examined in Assessing Mathematical Literacy to support international education and development efforts. That work includes the Monitoring Trends in Educational Growth assessment project in Afghanistan, as well as review and assessment projects in Lesotho, Zimbabwe, India, Myanmar, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and other countries in the Asia-Pacific region; assessment programs in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia; and a new regional assessment program for the 11 countries of the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organisation.

The work of the Centre for Global Education Monitoring, like the insights in Assessing Mathematical Literacy, aims to support policy makers and educators at all levels united in a common task: informing and supporting quality teaching and learning. ■

For more information:
Assessing Mathematical Literacy: The PISA experience
, edited by Ross Turner and Kaye Stacey, was published by Springer in 2015.

Visit the Centre for Global Education Monitoring for more information on ACER’s international education and development efforts.


About the author

Ross Turner is a Principal Research Fellow in ACER’s International Surveys research program. 

More [rd] articles by Ross Turner

View selected works of Ross Turner

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