The Use (and Misuse) of PISA in Guiding Policy Reform: The Case of Spain

IEB Working Paper N. 2015/06

33 Pages Posted: 20 Mar 2015

See all articles by Álvaro Choi

Álvaro Choi

University of Barcelona

John Jerrim

University of London - Institute of Education

Date Written: February 11, 2015


In 2013 Spain introduced a series of educational reforms explicitly inspired by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2012 results. These reforms were mainly implemented in secondary education – based upon the assumption that this is where Spain’s educational problems lie. This paper questions this assumption by attempting to identify the point where Spanish children fall behind young people in other developed counties in terms of their reading skills. Specifically, by drawing data from multiple international assessments, we are able to explore how cross-national differences in reading skills change as children age. Consideration is given to both the average level of achievement and the evolution of educational inequalities. Our conclusion is that policymakers have focused their efforts on the wrong part of the education system; educational achievement is low in Spain (and educational inequalities large) long before children enter secondary school. This study therefore serves as a note of caution against simplistic interpretation of the PISA rankings; policymakers must take a more nuanced approach when enacting important educational reforms.

Keywords: Educational policy, academic performance, PISA, PIRLS

JEL Classification: I21, I24, I28

Suggested Citation

Choi, Álvaro and Jerrim, John, The Use (and Misuse) of PISA in Guiding Policy Reform: The Case of Spain (February 11, 2015). IEB Working Paper N. 2015/06. Available at SSRN: or

Álvaro Choi (Contact Author)

University of Barcelona ( email )

Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes, 585
Barcelona, 08007

John Jerrim

University of London - Institute of Education ( email )

20 Bedford Way,
London, WC1H 0AL
United Kingdom

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