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12 Nov 2014

The Global Influence of the OECD in International Education Policies By Simone Bloem

By Simone Bloem, Université Paris Descartes/University of Bamberg.

oecdThe OECD is the co-ordinator of what some claim is currently the most important and influential international student assessment: The Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA). PISA not only includes the 34 member states of the OECD, but an almost equally large number of so-called partner countries and economies.

There may have been times when informed readers in participating countries had heard more about PISA than the OECD itself. But over time, the organisation has undoubtedly become a well-known agent to stakeholders in education policy as well as for the professionals in school systems around the world. This may well be due to the fact that the OECD is an important knowledge producer with PISA data; they not only co-ordinate the implementation and further development of the assessment, but also analyse the data and draw policy-related conclusions on this basis.

Since the first publication of PISA results in 2001, the OECD Secretariat has prepared a growing number of reports and other dissemination materials related to PISA. Its analysts and managers diffuse PISA results and policy-related conclusions at conferences and events with stakeholders from politics, educational practice and educational research in the participating PISA countries and beyond. On the basis of the various data collected as part of the PISA assessment, it provides global advice to politicians and society aiming to improve the quality, effectiveness and efficiency of national education systems. Due to its high output rate of PISA products, its global outreach and the widespread use of its products in science, politics and the media, the OECD has become an important actor in shaping the interpretation and use of PISA data and results.

An increasing knowledge production with PISA data in the OECD Secretariat could be observed between 2001 and 2014. It is noticeable that the initial PISA reports (reports that are published simultaneously with the release date of PISA data) have grown considerably in volume and scope over the assessment cycles. While the initial PISA reports of the first assessment cycles consisted of one volume with a still manageable numbers of produced pages, tables and figures, the initial PISA reports are now published in several volumes and contain hundreds of pages and significantly more tables and text (see for example OECD, 2001, 2014). Over time, a concentration of analytical activities related to PISA has developed in the OECD Directorate for Education. Analysts in the Directorate have been preparing a growing number of PISA thematic reports, which deal with specific issues in greater detail, like gender equality, students’ motivation or performance of students with an immigrant background. These reports had earlier been drafted earlier by external consultants mostly from the academic field.

Most notably the OECD Directorate for Education has tried to strengthen the link between PISA and policy advice through new forms of data analysis and has adopted a more public oriented data communication approach with the aim of raising the relevance of the assessment and its results in politics, educational practice and society. The mostly descriptive presentation of results in the initial reports of the first assessment cycles has been supplemented by more in-depth secondary analysis and reference to countries’ experiences and reform trajectories that are intended to serve as “best practice” examples. According to OECD experts, this follows from a growing demand for policy advice on the basis of PISA data from countries and the availability of more and comparative historical data, as the PISA assessment has already had several cycles which would allow an in-depth use of PISA data. At the same time, this turn from a largely descriptive presentation of results to a more policy oriented use of PISA data is, at least in part, seen critically from members of the PISA community in and outside the OECD. Furthermore, the OECD Directorate for Education had strengthened and extended its media outreach in recent years, in particular by showing more presence in social media and by producing more accessible materials, ranging from overview brochures (e.g. OECD, 2014) and other shorter pieces of work summarising main results, to online tools allowing the public to explore PISA results themselves. In passing, it should also be mentioned that these additional activities went hand-in-hand with an increase in the number of employees working for PISA and additional financial resources available to the OECD Directorate for Education.

These developments can be interpreted as a growing politicisation of the knowledge production of PISA in the OECD’s Directorate for Education since the publication of first PISA results in 2001. It increases OECD’s visibility in society, politics and the media and ties PISA data more closely to educational policy. With this, OECD’s global influence in international education policies will likely increase even further.

Simone Bloem, Université Paris Descartes/University of Bamberg. Email:

This blog is based on Bloem’s thesis on OECD’s knowledge production with PISA, which she will defend in November 2014.

Further reading:

Bloem, S. (2013). L’exploitation des enquêtes PISA : entre rigueur scientifique et exigences politiques. INITIO -Réformes scolaires : perspectives internationales – no. 3, automne 2013, 4-25.

>> Related post: Bloem, S. ‘PISA in Low and Middle Income Countries’ 10th Jan, 2014.

>>See all NORRAG blogs on Learning Assessments

NORRAG (Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training) is an internationally recognised, multi-stakeholder network which has been seeking to inform, challenge and influence international education and training policies and cooperation for almost 30 years. NORRAG has more than 4,200 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.



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