Swedish students ‘too tired’ for Pisa tests

After Sweden's students tumbled in the latest Pisa rankings, a new review suggests that due to a rigorous schedule of testing elsewhere, the students were too tired to care.

Swedish students 'too tired' for Pisa tests
File photo: TT
The fact that Sweden dropped in December's Pisa rankings is not an accurate reflection of school life, the Dagens Nyheter newspaper reported on Wednesday. The results saw the country's 15-year-olds drop below the OECD average in maths, reading comprehension, and natural sciences.
But students were too worn out to care about the Pisa tests, choosing instead to focus their attention on the other 12 national tests they were sitting at the time, all of which contributed to their final end-of-year grade.
"The national tests are insane. They drain so much of our energy," Jesper Palmqvist, a top Bjursås student, told the paper.
"When another test came along – above all one that didn't contribute to our final grades, we got the feeling that it wasn't so important. Many of us didn't take it seriously and that kind of attitude is contagious."
Palmqvist, who was just one of over 100 interviewed by DN, scored the highest possible grades in maths in year nine, but only answered one in three Pisa questions correctly in the same subject.
Many of the students admitted that they just answered the multiple-choice questions at random, while others explained that their teachers had said the tests weren't important. 
The Pisa rankings revealed that no other country had fallen so abruptly as Sweden in maths over a ten-year span. Overall, not one of the other 32 countries included in the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) survey saw its students take such a beating in their studies. 

Sweden's schools now rank below both the United States and the UK according to the Pisa rankings.

More to follow

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Sweden recovers in global school rankings

Sweden's schools have showed signs of recovery in the latest edition of the global Pisa education ranking, with results in mathematics, reading and science now at or above the OECD average for all three subjects.

Sweden recovers in global school rankings
The Pisa results provide encouraging signs for Sweden. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

READ ALSO: What Pisa rankings actually say about Swedish schools

The 2013 edition of the survey was a wake-up call for Sweden, which experienced the sharpest drop in results of any of the 32 countries studied over a ten-year span, pushing them below the OECD average.

But Tuesday’s release of the latest instalment of the ranking, covering the year 2015, brought encouraging news for the Nordic nation, as all three subjects showed marked improvements.

Pisa called Sweden’s ability to reduce its share of low performers in mathematics while at the same time raising excellence and increasing its number of top performers “particularly encouraging”.

It also highlighted that Sweden shows one of the highest levels of efficiency in education, producing strong results compared to the number of hours students spend being instructed or doing homework. Only five other school systems in the study had a better ratio of learning time to academic outcome.

“The Pisa result is a show of strength from Sweden’s teachers and students. Hard work has made the difference, that’s known in the classroom, and it has been proven now in the improving competence of those in the ninth grade, and better results across two different knowledge measurements,” Sweden's education minister Gustav Fridolin said in a statement.


The head of Sweden's National Agency for Education (Skolverket) also celebrated the news, with Mikael Halápi labelling the result a “shot in the arm” for the country's teachers, students and principles.

There were however still challenges for the Swedish school system which emerged from the study. The gap between the highest and lowest performing students has increased over the last decade and is now wider than the OECD average. The performance gap between socio-economically advantaged and disadvantaged students has also increased meanwhile.

In addition, the performance gap between immigrant and non-immigrant students in science in Sweden is larger than the average across the OECD countries.

“Gaps are growing. Your upbringing now affects your results more in Sweden than in many other OECD countries. We will never accept that. It is what you do in school that will determine your future, not what home you grow up in. The Pisa result is a happy one, but it calls for policy. We will continue to prioritize more time for teachers, to cut out segregation and give students support in time. No one should be left behind,” Fridolin added.

READ ALSO: The Local interviews Sweden's education minister Gustav Fridolin

The study also suggests that Swedish public schools are more likely to produce better results than private alternatives in the country.

Though the share of 15-year-old students enrolled in Sweden's private schools more than doubled between 2006 and 2015, students in public schools showed better results than those in private schools after accounting for the socio-economic profile of the students and schools, Pisa noted.

Education agency head Halápi said the new Pisa results require detailed analysis, and tempered some of the celebrations with a reminder that Sweden is still short of its high-point in the rankings from 16 years ago.

“We don't have a full answer for what the improvement is grounded in today. That’s a task for us and the research community to analyze. At the same time we know what contributes to a good school. It’s to do with developing education, getting more people to become teachers and providing the right conditions for the school. We still have a bit to go until we reach the top results of the Pisa study done in 2000,” the Swedish National Agency for Education acting head said in a press statement.