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Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)

Survey objectives

PISA, a collaborative effort among OECD member countries, assesses youth outcomes in three domains—reading literacy, mathematical literacy, and scientific literacy—through common international tests. The PISA assessment is intended to go beyond the testing of school-based curriculum in order to assess to what degree students approaching the end of their compulsory education have mastered the knowledge and skills in each of the literacy domains that are essential for full participation in society. More specifically PISA aims to answer the following questions:

  • How well are young adults prepared to meet the challenges of the future?

  • Are they able to analyze, reason and communicate their ideas effectively?

  • Do they have the capacity to continue learning throughout life?

  • Are some kinds of teaching and school organization more effective than others?

Target population

Individuals 15 years of age (those born in 1984), who were attending school in one of the ten provinces of Canada. Students of schools located on Indian reserves were excluded, as were students of schools for those with severe learning disabilities, schools for blind and deaf students, and students who were being home-schooled. The territories choose not to participate in PISA 2000. Internationally, 32 countries participated in PISA.

Sample size

In most countries, between 4,500 and 10,000 15-year-olds participated in PISA for a total of over 250,000 students. In Canada, 30,000 students from 1,200 schools in the ten provinces participated. This large Canadian sample was needed to produce reliable estimates for each province and for both the English and French language school systems in Manitoba,
Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. (Sample sizes by jurisdiction are available in the Canadian report on PISA, available at

Data collection

The PISA 2000 survey included a direct assessment of students’ skills through reading, mathematics, and science tests, with each student taking a two-hour long assessment consisting of different combinations of test items. The 2000 PISA assessment focussed mainly on reading, with mathematics and science as minor testing domains. As a result, there were fewer mathematics and science items included and these items were
administered to a sub-sample of the PISA participants. The reading test items supported three sub-scores in retrieving information, interpreting texts, and reflection and evaluation, whereas mathematics and science each had only one score. Students also completed a 20-minute questionnaire focussing on factors contributing to student achievement and a 3-minute
questionnaire focussing on information technology. In addition, PISA 2000 included a questionnaire, which was administered to school principals, to collect information about the characteristics of participating schools.

Students in Canada who participated in PISA also participated in a 30-minute questionnaire for the Youth in Transition Survey (YITS) (see the entry in this Appendix for more details).

The PISA assessment was administered in school, during regular school hours, in April and May 2000.

Survey frequency

Every 3 years with major testing domains as follows:

  • 2000: reading;
  • 2003: mathematics;
  • 2006: science.

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Date modified: 2008-12-01 Important Notices