Swedes may have rigged PISA test results

The joy surrounding Sweden s PISA test results appears to be premature as recent information suggests that the country has not exactly observed every rule. Poorly performing students, typically second generation migrants, were presumably removed from the sample to achieve favourable scores.

WORLD JUNE 4. 2020 14:39

The influx of newcomers during the 2015 migrant crisis has had an adverse impact on the quality of education in Sweden. As Swedish schools saw the arrival of large numbers of children with a migrant background, the level of education began to decline, because most of these foreign students had no sufficient command of the Swedish language.

Against this background it comes as no surprise that Swedish Education Minister Anna Ekstrom, a member of the Social Democratic Party, was delighted to receive the 2018 PISA test results last December. The scores were quite good, suggesting that Swedish schools have managed to improve student performance and returned to more favourable levels witnessed in 2006.

In light of recently obtained information, however, her joy was likely premature, as Sweden may have rigged the test results, according to the Expressen portal. After analysing the stats collected by Expressen, economics professor Magnus Henrekson pointed out that the PISA test results are a means to compare the education in Sweden with other countries. The fact that the test scores – through mistakes in methodology – have presented Sweden s reality in a more favourable light, is a serious matter, he added.

Standard PISA rules only allow students who have recently arrived and received less than one year of instruction in the assessment language to be exempted from the test, while all the other selected 15-year-old students must take part in the assessment. Children can be exempted from the assessment for three reasons: poor language skills (because they have recently arrived), physical disabilities and cognitive impairment.

Expressen asked three principals and their responses have revealed that some schools simply ignored the rule that the test is mandatory for all students who have learnt Swedish for over a year.

Ulrika Mattsson, principal of Uppsala s Palmblad School, for instance, admitted that she exempted some students who would have been required to take the test. Although this was a violation of the regulations prescribed by OECD, she said she wanted to avoid students feeling bad about taking the test and producing low scores.

Another principal said his school had applied a more lenient categorisation and only classified students who have been in Sweden for at least two years as new arrivals, although they did draw the line here. Speaking by phone, another school director also admitted that they had failed to observe the one-year rule, but when she was asked to put this in writing, she issued a statement saying her school had followed every regulation.

Finally, 11 per cent of the selected 15-year-old students were removed from Sweden s sample. Real data would have looked completely different if they had also taken the test, according to Expressen. Scores would have been far worse, with the portal estimating that the results in reading comprehension would have been at least between 5 to 13 points lower, had every school in Sweden adhered to the rules during the PISA tests. The rules, however, were overlooked because schools have many foreign students who are typically poor learners, because of their inadequate language skills.

In light of all this, Magnus Henrekson believes that Sweden s PISA test results would have been worse, 13 points lower, but even this score presupposes a good or roughly averge performance from disadvantaged students. In reality, the scores would have been lower in mathematics and science literacy as well.

Interestingly, even the Swedish National Agency for Education (Skolverket) admitted that there was something suspicious about the 2018 data. However, according to Expressen, they thought they were faced with a miniscule error, which in turn resulted in serious methodological mistakes. Henrekson agrees that the agency used overly positive results, portraying Sweden s education system in a surprisingly good light. Moreover, even though they knew that too many foreign-born students had been excluded from the PISA test, this was only indicated in the footnote of a report, and did not appear in any other news.

According to Skolverket, the underlying reason behind the exclusion of students from the 2018 Pisa test is Sweden s admission of an extremely large number of migrants, but the exact number of students who did not have to sit the test – either because of their poor language skills or some other factors – remains unclear. These stats have not been released by Sweden, just like in Italy.

In administering the 2018 PISA survey, countries had to observe a rule capping the ratio of selected students who could be granted permission not to take the test at 5 per cent. Although this ratio is revealed to have reached 11 per cent in Sweden, the Scandinavian country has been granted an exception to this rule because of the large-scale immigration.

With regard to who is considered a newcomer and who can be exempted from the test, Expressen has done its own calculations and reached a different conclusion than Skolverket. According to the newspaper, the discrepancy derives from the fact that Skolverket considered the issue date of the students residence permits, instead of their arrival to Sweden, which is what it should have done. This is important, because there is a huge time gap between the dates of arrival and the issuance of the residence permits, during which kids usually go to school, putting the aforementioned 1-year rule in a different perspective.

The Swedish portal became suspicious of the PISA test results in January. They penned a letter to the person in charge at Sweden s National Agency for Education, Anders Auer, to inquire about what the official figures were based on. Eventually, It turned out that Skolverket had based its calculations on the dates the students were registered in the country, which Magnus Henrekson believes to be a serious mistake.

Interpreting the data also raises another issue, namely that oftentimes even second-generation Swedes – born in Sweden to immigrant parents – are lacking the proper language skills. Perhaps they were also excluded from the PISA test, something directly forbidden by the OECD. Another problem Sweden had to face was that 13.5 per cent of the students invited did not show up on the day of the survey. This includes, for example, an Afghan boy, who had been in school for two years but could not read in either Swedish or his mother tongue, so he decided not to take the test.

In sum, Sweden s PISA test results are only cause for spurious happiness, as certain factors that are key in determining the country s status have been ignored in the calculation. Although the real gravity and the aftermath of the incident is anyone s conjecture, it is expected to produce a serious outcry, with the ominuous signs already gathering on the horizon.



cheat, education, language skills, migrant background, new arrivals, pisa, statistics, students, sweden