Schools in England and the United States will not be taking the new international Pisa test designed to assess respect for other cultures, challenge extremism and help identify fake news.
The new “global competences” test will be carried out alongside maths, reading and science, as part of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)’s influential Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) tests.
But some Western countries including England, the United States, Germany, France, Denmark, the Netherlands, Finland and Ireland have decided not to take the global competence test, although they will take the other core academic subject tests.
Schools in Scotland, Australia and Canada are among those that will take the global competence test, which is being launched this year.
The OECD’s Pisa rankings have become important international benchmarks for education systems.
But the economic think tank has decided to introduce a very different kind of test, addressing the type of skills young people need to navigate a world of “post-truth” and social media “echo chambers”.
The concept of global competence was intended to test how well young people were prepared to work alongside people from different cultures and with different beliefs.
The test will measure tolerance, cultural awareness and how well teenagers can distinguish between reliable sources of information and fake news.
It will consider issues such as racism, cultural identity and prejudice.
Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s education director, said the success of education systems had to be measured on more than exam results.
Speaking in London at the Education World Forum, he said there had to be a greater awareness of “values”.
Alongside globalisation and the rise of social media, he said, there had been a “polarisation” in beliefs, which meant that some teenagers could be left with little awareness of the views of other people.
The test is underpinned by the idea that young people should understand other cultures, show respect for “human dignity” and be able to objectively analyse information.
The OECD has been trailing these plans for a new kind of Pisa test for the past year.
But Mr Schleicher said the “crunch” point was that some countries were reluctant to be compared on these measures.
And there had been a “hesitation” about moving from discussing students’ beliefs to “hard data” from testing them.
“I take a different view. The only way to get serious, the only way to get started with this issue is to look at the truth,” said the OECD’s education chief.
Mr Schleicher said that the test would reveal the countries that paid only “lip service” to the ideas of tolerance and inclusion.
“What do students actually think? What do students actually know?
“That’s the aim of Pisa, to confront us with the real world, not the world of words and beautiful theory,” he said.
The most successful education systems were often the most open and diverse, Mr Schleicher said, giving Canada as an example.
The Department for Education in England said Pisa was valued for the information it provided on schools – and that schools would continue to take the other Pisa tests, with the results and rankings to be published next year.
But it said that “like more than half of the 80 countries” taking Pisa tests, it would not place an “additional burden” on schools with the new global competence test.
“All schools are already required to teach pupils to have a mutual respect and tolerance of those of different faiths and beliefs,” said a DFE spokeswoman.
But the Scottish government said it wanted to carry out a test which would help young people to “thrive in today’s world”.
“The results will help us understand how we can further support young people to be responsible global citizens, capable of taking part in local, regional and global decision making and debate,” said the Scottish government spokeswoman.
The OECD says that there are still likely to be changes to the countries participating, but at present there will be 28 countries in the inaugural rankings on global competences – and a further 24 countries will gather data, without students taking the test.
Sean Coughlan has been a regular contributor to BBC