New PISA study to track immigrant pupils

Denmark's first-ever PISA study of bilingual public school students is in development, thanks to a grant from the Rockwool Foundation

For the first time ever, a nationwide PISA study will offer a precise look at how immigrant children fare in the public school system compared to their Danish peers, as well as how different ethnic groups measure up against each other.

The study is part of a comprehensive three-year research project funded with a DKK 10 million grant by the Rockwool Foundation. The study will chart immigrant education patterns and job market involvement in Denmark.

"We know far too little about how bilingual students are doing. We need real documentation for what we regard as an important social issue," said Rockwool Foundation research chief Torben Tranæs.

Tranæs noted that the latest PISA international study did not provide an adequate statistical overview, as just 300 immigrant students were represented in the 4,200 pupils evaluated in the Danish part of the study. The Rockwool Foundation's plan is to commission a report using the same method and breadth as the PISA study.

Some 4,000 immigrant schoolkids in Denmark will be asked to respond to questionnaires and tested in reading, mathematics and science. Pupils will be selected from schools with low, medium and high concentrations of bilingual students.

Education Minister Ulla Tørnæs has applauded news of the study.

"It's marvelous that the Rockwool Foundation has decided to sponsor a thoroughgoing analysis of immigrant students in the public school system. This will provide a much clearer picture of how they're performing, so we can better address ways of providing bilingual children with the curricular support they need to pursue an education," said Tørnæs, who has asked the OECD to certify the nationwide project.

The Danish researchers who worked on the international PISA study will also collect data for the immigrant study.

Professor Niels Egelund of the Danish Teachers College has dubbed the initiative "PISA Ethnic, and says it's high time that education officials conducted a thorough analysis of immigrant children in Danish schools.

"The number of bilingual kids enrolled in public school skyrocketed throughout the 1990's, in contrast to neighbouring countries like Sweden, which has had a pretty even flow. We need to clarify what's gone wrong in our failure to bring second-generation immigrant children to the same aptitude level as Danish children. Other countries have been able to do it," said Egelund.

In the wake of PISA's 2000 report, Niels Egelund led a study that found that 49 percent of bilingual schoolchildren left the Danish public school system functionally illiterate.

"We need data and answers about immigrant children's school experience, if we're going to integrate 49 percent of these kids into the educational system and job market," said Egelund.

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