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Changes in educational inequalities in Poland. Comments on Zbigniew Sawiński’s article “Education reform and inequality: fifteen years of new lower secondary schools in Poland”

In his text published in Edukacja, 141(2), 2017 („Education reform and inequality: fifteen years of new lower secondary schools in Poland”), Zbigniew Sawiński analyses data from the 2000 to 2012 editions of the OECD PISA study and argues that lower secondary school reform has not reduced educational inequalities in Poland. The importance of students’ social origin remained at the same level as before the reform, the impact of social origin on the choice of type of secondary school remained the same, and an increasing differentiation of lower secondary schools did not lead to an increase in educational inequalities. I present methodological arguments and the results of a re-analysis of PISA data, indicating changes in wider educational inequalities. Between 2000 and 2012: (a) the strength of association in the performance of 15-year-olds with the socio-economic status of students’ families did not change, but (b) the variation of results decreased, which was mainly due to the improved performance of the lowest performing students; (c) the differences between students of high and low socio-economic status decreased; (d) the influence of social origin on the choice of the type of upper secondary school decreased. The effects of socio-economic status on upper secondary school choice is largely direct: it is not mediated by the educational achievements of students. The commentary also highlights the complexity of lower secondary school reform, which was not limited to the introduction of such schools. I indicate the role of factors that make it difficult to interpret the results of the reform in causal terms – particularly the role of unobserved variables related to the changes in the learning environments of subsequent cohorts of students.

Michał Sitek, Educational Research Institute


The paper aims to verify two hypotheses. The first states that the differentiation of initial 1st grade pupil skills is negatively correlated with age at entry to school. This was tested according to findings from the ERI study Six and seven year olds at the start of school. The variation of reading and writing scores of 1164 pupils aged 5.9–7.9 years who were beginning 1st grade decreased in subsequent age quartiles. The second hypothesis – that classroom differentiation of pupils’ initial skills in 1st grade is positively correlated with the birthdate effect in 3rd grade – was tested on data of 4838 pupils from 254 classrooms drawn from the 2011 PIRLS and TIMSS studies in Poland. Skills were evaluated on the basis of parental reports. Hierarchical linear analysis (gender, SES and school location controlled) showed that the greater the differentiation of language skills in 1st grade, the greater the birthdate effect in mathematics in 3rd grade. This result suggests that school entry age is of lesser importance than the methods used to reduce differences in children’s school readiness at the onset of education.

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