New global math test to be developed for the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development

Education and workforce development experts at RTI International awarded project to update an influential international math assessment


RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC— Are 15-year-olds from the United States, Russia, or China (or any other of dozens of countries) improving at math? How does performance between boys vs. girls compare? Do Immigrants outperform non-immigrants? How do advantaged vs. disadvantaged students perform? And, importantly, what can countries do to improve student performance?

These and many other questions can be informed by the triannual Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which is administered by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

RTI International, in partnership with Pearson, will develop the mathematics framework for PISA, which is widely recognized as the benchmark for evaluating education systems worldwide. It assesses the skills and knowledge needed to pursue further academic education or join the workforce, among 15-year-old students, the age when most students are near the end of compulsory education and will be making their next educational choices.

 “We’re excited to help countries learn from each other’s successes and shape education policy through the PISA 2021 math assessment framework,” said Kimberly O’Malley, Ph.D., senior vice president of education and workforce development at RTI. “We thank the OECD for selecting RTI and Pearson to work on a project of such scale and to promote fair and inclusive learning opportunities around the world.”

The mathematics framework will operationalize how math and quantitative reasoning will be measured for PISA 2021, how it will be reported, and which approach will be chosen for the development of tests and questionnaires. RTI education and workforce development researchers will:

  • Convene a group of international experts to review the existing mathematics framework and make recommendations for changes 
  • Develop sample items illustrating framework concepts and components, and conduct cognitive laboratories testing the sample items with 15-year-olds
  • Write a framework document to guide test development, and prepare the document for publication by OECD

“RTI and Pearson will help keep educators in the United States and other countries updated about the most current thinking in mathematical literacy,” O’Malley said. “This is the first time the mathematical literacy framework has been revisited since computer-based testing was introduced. Our experts are eager to consider technology as they define the PISA 2021 math assessment framework.”

OECD is an intergovernmental organization that stimulates economic progress and world trade. Pearson, an education publishing and assessment company, has helped the OECD develop the frameworks for the past two cycles in 2015 and 2018.

More than 70 countries and economies participated in the 2015 assessment, representing approximately 28 million 15-year-olds globally. Researchers expect higher numbers for PISA 2018 and 2021. A range of countries with developing to advanced education policies will join the PISA assessment in 2021. The expanded number of countries will foster broader knowledge about reading, mathematical, and science literacy globally.

“PISA 2021 will reflect the increasingly important role that mathematics plays in the lives of individuals,” said Andreas Schleicher, head of the PISA program at the OECD. “It will give emphasis to students’ deep conceptual understanding as well as their ability to utilize mathematics as constructive, engaged and reflective citizens. RTI International and Pearson have proposed a visionary approach to supporting the OECD in implementing this vision and support member governments in identifying best practice in mathematics education.”