Romanian officials’ nonchalant reaction to 2018 PISA results

Juan A. Martinez
Constanta, Romania

Two Romanian officials have reacted publicly to the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results. They appear to be unfazed by the results. This is atypical for persons responsible for national education quality. Their responses appear to be genuine, but somehow deficient. Their responses can be likened to a mix of persons who have been caught “holding the bag” and persons forced to comment on the loss of a football (i.e., soccer) match by the national team.

The current, but recently appointed Minister of Education, Monica Anisie, commented,

“We don’t necessarily need to worry about this evaluation of the PISA tests, it is an international assessment. The focus of these international tests is not necessarily on what pupils know, but on applying the knowledge in specific life matters…”[1]

Former ministers of education and other experts had invalidating reactions to Minister Anisie’s comments. They have taken a more worrying stance.[2] Tellingly, the Minister’s attitude is reflective of the longtime and deeply embedded philosophy of education held within the Romanian Education System. That philosophy is that students are to accumulate knowledge; they are simply to memorize information or facts. This is why Minister Anisie makes the questionable distinction between having knowledge and applying knowledge. However, the true distinction is between lower order and higher order thinking skills. The Romanian Education System is designed for the lower end while the PISA is designed for the higher end of Bloom’s Taxonomy. At the student level, they may have regarded the PISA as unimportant compared to the National Baccalaureate high-stakes test. The underlying educational philosophy is confirmed by a National Liberal Party (PNL) deputy Adriana Saftoiu. She states,

“…the future PISA test will have the same results in Romania as long as the spirit in the Romanian schools is not changed…Romanian pupils are not taught in the spirit of the PISA assessment. ‘In our country, children don’t learn by drawing parallels among information, among subjects. They are taught to say some lessons by heart.’”[3]

The origin of this philosophy is the general culture that favors survivalist or Particular (vs. Universalist) minded persons. In other words, whatever helps one survive or get through a situation is given priority over truth-seeking for its own sake.

Second, the longtime President of ARACIP, Serban Iosifescu,[4] posted on his personal Facebook account,

“…that the reaction of the society is predominantly emotional and that on the subject they have benefited from “the influence of lightning”, which have no solutions to the problems they report.”[5]

President Iosifescu, made other sardonic comments. Essentially, education policy and, especially, education evaluation, have become either politicized or fodder for cynics who can point out the supposed problems, but who cannot formulate or propose solutions. Remarkably, President Iosifescu has been in his position since 2005. He has worked with many Education Ministers who arrived with their own educational reform plans. Often these plans simply added to the hodgepodge of existing rules, policies, or practices without evaluating their systemic benefits or impacts. Succinctly, a lot of fanfare, lights and sounds; but no real, lasting, or system change.

Nonetheless, there is legitimate reason for concern. Romanian students did worse in 2018 than in previous test cycles (2015 and 2012),

“…students got lower scores in Reading, Mathematics and Science…the percentage of functional illiteracy increased compared to 2015…”[6]

(For a more in-depth analysis of the 2018 PISA results, see Salceanu, D. (2019, December 3)).[7]

Romania has been able to accentuate the extreme positives of its National Education System by showing the world its best and brightest. “Every year…international mathematics, physics, chemistry, astronomy or computer science olympiads.” showcase Romania’s accomplished middle and high school students.[8] However, these academic subject superstars are a very small minority of the likely top scoring Romanian PISA participants who reached level 5 or level 6 in Reading (1%), Mathematics (3%), and Science (1%) respectively. By definition, the superstars are not representative of the average students’ academic performance level. In my opinion, the national attention or obsession with the superstar students distracts and delays a sober and objective assessment of the state of education quality in Romania. Moreover, there is often a spurious connection between these superstars and the formal education they received in school. More robust correlatives would be: parental involvement, student’s personal aspirations, private tutoring, and private school attendance.

Endnotes

[1] Salceanu, D. (2019, December 4). Education minister on the PISA concerning result: ‘We don’t necessarily have to worry’. Experts, former ministers slam her stance. Retrieved December 9, 2019, from https://www.romaniajournal.ro/society-people/education-minister-on-the-pisa-concerning-result-we-dont-necessarily-have-to-worry-experts-former-ministers-slam-her-stance/

[2] Salceanu, D. (2019, December 4).

[3] Salceanu, D. (2019, December 4).

[4] For the sake of disclosure, I was a member of the Romanian Evaluation Association, when President Iosifescu was one of its Board members. We had conversations about the Romanian Education System and his longevity as President of Agenției Române de Asigurare a Calității în Învățământul Preuniversitar – ARACIP (Translated as: The Agency for the Assurance of Quality for Pre-university Education).

[5] Șeful ARACIP, despre Raportul PISA: De rezultate au profitat, imediat, influensării și “experții” de pe feisbuc. (2019, December 4). Retrieved December 9, 2019, from https://www.educatieprivata.ro/seful-aracip-despre-raportul-pisa-de-rezultate-au-profitat-imediat-influensarii-si-expertii-de-pe-feisbuc/.

[6] Facebook, & Google. (n.d.). PISA 2018 test results show over 4 in 10 Romanian students don’t understand what they read; education minister not that worried. Retrieved December 9, 2019, from https://www.romania-insider.com/romania-pisa-2018-results.

[7] Salceanu, D. (2019, December 3). Romania, the lowest score on PISA test in the past nine years. Retrieved December 9, 2019, from https://www.romaniajournal.ro/society-people/romania-the-lowest-score-on-pisa-test-in-the-past-nine-years/.

[8] The state of Romanian education. (n.d.). Retrieved December 9, 2019, from https://www.rri.ro/en_gb/the_state_of_romanian_education-2608347.

This entry was posted in International Tests, Juan A. Martinez, K-12, math, OECD, reading, Testing/Assessment and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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