Mediocre students perform better in life

Free University of Berlin

A few days ago, the second Pisa study was published, which certified Germany with a mediocre result: In a global comparison, German students do mediocre this time. We asked educationalists and psychologists from various disciplines what the reasons for the poor performance were.

When Pisa is not therapy

Pisa has created an understanding in Germany that not only the quality of goods, but also that of education must be checked and assured! In this country we have long been puzzled with any form of performance measurement. An important argument against it was the feared exclusion of people who were negative in the test. However, Pisa has shown that the assessment of individuals is essential if we are to measure the quality of our schools. Pisa has stimulated change, but cannot create it itself!

The positive trends that Pisa showed in 2003 should not hide the fact that our students do not become more competent from testing alone: ​​our young people do not get better just by introducing educational standards! There seems to be a trend towards relying entirely on the self-regulatory forces that may become free in schools or at home. I would like to call out to politicians: Pisa is a diagnostic tool, but Pisa is not a therapy! If we get stuck in diagnosing the weaknesses of our school system and leave the schools and parents alone with the task of therapy, it will not be possible to bring our students to the international Pisa peak. To the extent that politics leaves schools alone with the task of implementing the changes suggested by Pisa, those schools will fall by the wayside where there is hardly any potential for self-regulation and self-healing - namely the secondary schools

Prof. Dr. Bettina Hannover, School Pedagogy / School and Teaching Research Division, member of the national PISA 2003 expert group

When young children have language problems

Pisa reveals problems but does not research their causes. When teenagers have trouble understanding text, a complex cognitive skill. then important causes often lie in the development of the simplest skills in childhood. Anyone who does not correctly differentiate between speech sounds, recognize words or learn to link memory contents carefully and only has a small vocabulary or short-term memory span will also have problems reading and understanding text. Neurocognitive psychology could help to resolve such problems if modern methods for the early detection of attention, speech memory and reading disorders were used in daycare centers and elementary schools in order to systematically treat disorders discovered together with educators and academic therapists.

One example is the use of the “peep-mobile” in schools: in a 10-minute examination with a mobile eye movement measuring device installed in a minivan, the eye movements and pupil changes occurring when reading a standardized text are registered. In combination with other cognitive tests, this enables an objective determination of reading speed and precise individual diagnosis of children with learning and performance disorders or special talents.

Prof. Dr. Arthur Jacobs, General Psychology Department

When there are hardly any cross-cultural contexts

Quantitative studies do little to justify their results. Only lesson analyzes that also include the student's perspective allow interpretations. We research such analyzes of math lessons ( If you want to name the reasons, you first have to ask what the test measures. Pisa is not about mathematics, but about its application in everyday life, which is called "mathematical literacy" in the study. The tasks include everyday scenes in which math is to be applied. This is problematic because there are hardly any cross-cultural contexts. Anyone who does not know the context or does not understand the text fails before it even comes to math. On the other hand, anyone who knows the stylized context exactly can fail because he gives more differentiated solutions than are provided in the coding scheme. The connection between test performance and social background can therefore be a test construct.

Many of the tasks come from the well-known Dutch curriculum. Students from countries where such tasks are common can do better. And: Pisa does not refer to the curricula of the federal states, it also does not take into account other structural features. The study tests 15-year-olds who can be found in the 7th, 8th and 9th grades in Germany, but already in the 10th or 11th grade in other countries. If a test repeatedly produces roughly the same results, this initially shows only its reliability, not that “mathematical literacy” was actually tested.

Prof. Dr. Christine Keitel-Kreidt, primary school pedagogy department

When the diagnosis is known

What has to happen? Many attempts at reforming the German education system have been underway since 2002: lectures, pilot projects, papers. The diagnosis is known, the therapy is often half-hearted and indecisive.

Even with courageous steps in detail, the following applies: hesitants and procrastinators are in the majority. The educational revolution called for by the former Federal President Herzog some time ago is not yet in sight. What needs to be done is a “3-G strategy”: holism - speed - money.

Holistic approach: Our education system must be reformed from a single source, from pre-school to senior education: as a national project and as an educational biographical project for each individual.

Speed: Our education system must be changed immediately, and the following applies: Education lasts a lifetime, training serves to enable us to lead this life. That means: training time must remain manageable.

Money: In order to move up from 18th to 3rd place in the OECD ranking of 29 countries and to draw level with the others economically, around 30 billion euros are missing every year. Those who are not willing to pay them will have to spend five times as much on social issues. Education policy is social policy!

Prof. Dr. Dieter Lenzen, educationalist and President of the Free University of Berlin

When high school students learn math better

Pisa 2003 shows that certain problems still exist within the German education system, which were identified in Pisa 2000. A clear connection between socio-economic status and test performance, which is greater than in all other participating countries, can be stated as the cause. This mainly affects migrant children, whose backlog was rather underestimated rather than overestimated in the study. The indicator "one or both parents born abroad" does not take into account the fact that an increasing number of children with a migration background live in Germany, where both parents were born in Germany. In addition, every third secondary school teenager who was tested was in class 7 or 8, which means that they had sat at least once or twice. The majority of these young people had to repeat the class in elementary school. In addition, the Federal Republic of Germany takes second to last place in the teacher-pupil ratio, while an average place is achieved in terms of class frequency. This means that in other countries more additional teachers are made available for teaching in order to be able to carry out special or additive tasks.

The inadequate performance in reading skills draws attention to the fact that in preschool and elementary school too little attention is paid to language acquisition by children from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds or with a migrant background. To this end, the training of educators in the pre-school sector would have to be improved and, secondly, consistent further training in the field of “German as a second language” is urgently required in the primary school sector. The art of teaching needs to be more focused on enabling different forms of learning in the same classroom. This presupposes a corresponding further education and training of the educators. The aim of teacher training must increasingly be that teachers based on subject-specific competencies are able to enable methodologically and didactically different forms of imparting and acquiring knowledge, while at the same time fulfilling the educational mandate of the school.

Pisa 2003 shows that the current reform efforts are not yet sufficient. One result that makes people sit up and take notice is that, in comparison to the comprehensive school, young people at Realschulen achieve somewhat better performance in mathematics - despite the somewhat poorer socio-economic status of their parents. Overall, the study shows that the discussions about TIMSS and Pisa 2000 created a climate that makes it possible to achieve slightly improved performance in mathematics and natural sciences - especially at high school.

Prof. Dr. Hans Merkens, Department of Empirical Education

When the students start school later

In contrast to most European countries, German students only go to school part-time, so they consistently learn less. You will start school later and thus leave the early childhood learning window unused. You stay seated more often, while in other countries temporary performance failures are hardly a reason for grade repetitions. German pupils simply know that there is a long, secure path available to them until the “seriousness of life” will reach them. This has fatal consequences for attitudes towards school and learning for everyone involved in this system.

The focus on the qualifications relevant for a professional life has been lost and the introduction of nationwide quality standards and comparative studies or the expansion of all-day offers have long been overdue. Nevertheless, it is unrealistic to expect that this will change anything in the short term. The reforms must also reach the minds of children, young people, teachers and parents. Learning must be given the meaning that is appropriate for a knowledge society: it costs investment and individual effort. Children are ready to take on this exertion from the very first breath; we should no longer prevent them from doing it.

Prof. Dr. Agi Schründer-Lenzen, University of Potsdam. Member of the IZLL of the Free University

When students prefer to chat on the Internet

Research into the causes of the poor performance of German students in the PISA study is a very complex topic and cannot be reduced to a few explanatory variables that are often put forward, such as school system, school age, social status or proportion of migrants, and certainly not to the statement that students always stupid or the teachers got worse and worse. Certainly, however, many students lack the will and the ability to concentrate to deal with the material to be learned, as extracurricular activities such as watching TV for hours or chatting on the Internet seem far more exciting to them. What has been learned and perhaps stored in school in the morning is erased in the afternoon by such overstimulation. This is proven by numerous related studies. There is a lack of motivation for continuous learning and often there is a lack of cooperation between teachers and parents that is important for this.

In addition to such attempts at explanation, a methodological argument also plays an important role: when comparing countries, age (15 years) and not school age was taken as the basis. On the basis of school age, German students do significantly better in comparison.

Prof. Dr. Herbert Büning, Department of Economics, Institute for Statistics and Econometrics

When there is no serious explanation for achieving the average

According to Pisa, basic scientific education is available when scientific knowledge can be applied in a problem-oriented manner in different situations, whereby by no means only the correct use of formulas is meant. German pupils got a little better and are now in the international average range. This development gives rise to two questions: What is the cause of the improvement, and why has it not been even better?

A serious explanation for the achievement of the average cannot be given. Although teachers of the natural sciences have participated in the Sinus advanced training program since 1998, they are too few overall for a broad-based effect to be achieved. It could be, however, that some public discussions about possibilities for changing science lessons (e.g. the use of learning-enhancing tasks) led to a sensitization of teachers.

Why is it that more than mediocrity was not achieved? As in other test areas, there is a wide range of explanations that only partially relate to the lesson. In general, one of the most striking features of science teaching can still be cited as the lack of variety of methods. The use of the methodological wealth offered for teaching will be one of the most important tasks of future developments.

Prof. Dr. Helmut Fischler, Didactics of Physics

When Pisa is cause for rejoicing

The results of Pisa 2003 give Germany neither cause for rejoicing nor for contrition. In an international comparison, the overall picture of the findings remained stable from 2000 to 2003, as expected. This speaks for the high methodological quality of the study. In 2003, the focus was on examining the mathematical skills of 15-year-olds. Differentiated performance profiles can also be mapped for this area. The well-known priorities of mathematics lessons are reflected in the performance profile of German students. Strengths lie in arithmetic and algebra, clear performance weaknesses can be seen in the area of ​​stochastics. The different results for sub-areas of mathematics, which are worked on in school with different intensities, are extremely important. They show that the performance results of Pisa - even if Pisa aims at overarching competencies - can be directly influenced by the design of the lessons. Therefore, one can also tend to interpret the demonstrable improvements in mathematics performance of German students as the result of a change in teaching practice.

The didactic rethinking in mathematics that began after the TIMSS findings published in 1997 seems to be having an effect. The same applies to the natural sciences, for which significant increases in performance can also be demonstrated. TIMSS had already caused a shock in this subject four years earlier. On the other hand, it is not surprising that reading performance has remained stable over the past three years. The change in reading skills is more prerequisite, so that no changes are to be expected in short periods of time.

Pisa 2003 also shows, however, that the central challenges with regard to the modernization of the German school system still exist, and here really all alarm bells must ring. The group of high-risk students who leave school with poor education remains large. More than a fifth of the younger generation threatens to be excluded from successfully participating in social life. The disparities hidden in this finding are greater than in hardly any other member state of the OECD. A society that does not see these findings as a challenge of great urgency is acting irresponsibly towards the next generation.

Prof. Dr. Drs.h.c. Jürgen Baumert, Director of the Research Area Educational Science and Education Systems, Max Planck Institute for Human Development