The public is indeed being manipulated by those PISA results in an attempt to cram Common Core and other bullshit in order to dismantle public education altogether.
In our report last January, we identified several reasons for the complexity of international comparisons and came to some key conclusions:
There is a test score gap between socioeconomically advantaged and disadvantaged students in every country. Although the size of the gap varies somewhat from country to country, countries’ gaps are more similar to each other than they are different.
Countries’ average scores are affected by the relative numbers of advantaged and disadvantaged students in their schools. The United States has relatively more disadvantaged students than the usual comparison countries. If average scores were adjusted so that each country had a similar social class composition, U.S. scores would appear to be higher than conventionally reported and the gap with top-scoring countries, while still present, would be smaller. Adjusting for differences in countries’ social class composition can also change their relative rankings.
Trends in test scores over time vary more by social class in some countries than in others. In the United States, there have been striking gains over the last decade for disadvantaged students, but not for the more advantaged.
In some countries, including the United States, students perform relatively better on some international tests than others, even though the tests purport to assess the same subject area. This may be because of flaws in one test or another, or because some tests are better aligned with a particular country’s curriculum than others.
Some countries to which the United States is frequently unfavorably compared currently have higher test scores, but their test scores have been falling over time, while scores in the United States have not been similarly falling. It is not apparent to what extent U.S. policymakers should attempt to learn from the experience of countries with high scores, or from the experience of countries with rising scores.
In other words, all of this handwringing over international comparisons is a bunch of neoliberal bullshit.