ZIB Education

Characterisation of risk groups

Lead: TUM

What was the project about?

The study focused on considering the abilities of 15-year-old students at special-needs schools compared to their peers with no special needs teaching requirements. It was important to ensure that the students were suitable for testing and satisfied the PISA participation criteria. This included the young people being able to sit the PISA test on their own without help, and being sufficiently fluent in German.

An additional random sample was surveyed at special needs schools in the 2012 PISA study in order to conduct the project. The research focused on the following questions:

  • How can the competencies of 15-year-olds at special needs schools with special educational needs (SEN) in Germany be described in comparison to non-SEN 15-year-olds?
  • Which test form is best suited to 15-year-old students at special needs schools?

Besides PISA 2012, research was based on an additional survey of 53 special needs schools with suitable test students, which, exactly like PISA, covered the subjects of mathematics, science and reading.

In order to clarify the second question, the SEN students were given different forms of tests and they worked through either the regular two-hour test booklet, a booklet with easier exercises (also two-hour) or a one-hour short test booklet specially designed for SEN students. Performance, dropout quota and differences between the test versions were then examined on this basis. The concentration of the 15-year-olds during the test was also observed and recorded.

What results did the project produce?

  • As expected, in general the SEN students achieved much lower results on average than their non-SEN peers. The majority of the mathematics results correspond to competence level I or lower, i.e. the students possess hardly any elementary abilities in this subject. Most also only display minimum abilities in reading and science. In PISA studies students are classed in competence levels I to VI for mathematics, whereby it is also possible for performance to fall short of Level I. At Level I, the young test candidates are capable of answering questions on familiar contexts in which all the relevant information is provided and the questions are clearly phrased.
  • Some SEN students however also achieved competence levels II and III in mathematics. Competence level II means that students at this level are able to employ elementary algorithms, formulae, methods and rules. They are capable of direct reasoning and making literal interpretations of the results. At competence level III, students can interpret and use representations based on different information sources and reason directly from them. They can supply short reports of their interpretations, results and reasoning.
  • In all three disciplines tested (mathematics, science and reading) the competences of the young people whose special educational needs are focused on emotional and social development were above average compared to all SEN young people.
  • On average, boys were better at maths and girls were better at reading. There were virtually no gender differences in science.
  • No systematic differences in the difficulty of the exercises could be established between the individual test booklets.
  • The one-hour test booklet seems to be better suited for SEN students than the regular or simplified test booklet. With it, the young people performed better and the dropout rate was lower.

Besides this study on SEN students, the PISA research group is also a founding member of the NELSEN network➚ (NEtwork of Large Scale Studies Including Students with Special Educational Needs), which meanwhile receives funding from the German Research Foundation DFG, and works closely with colleagues across Germany who are also engaged in comparative performance research based on testing SEN students.


Publications on this project:

  • Gebhardt, M., Heine, J.-H. & Sälzer, C. (2015). Schulische Kompetenzen von Schülerinnen und Schülern ohne sonderpädagogischen Förderbedarf im gemeinsamen Unterricht. In: Vierteljahresschrift für Heilpädagogik, 84 (3), 246-258.
  • Gebhardt, M., Sälzer, C., Mang, J., Müller, K. & Prenzel, M. (2015). Performance of Students with Special Educational Needs in Germany. Findings from PISA 2012. In: Journal of Cognitive Education and Psychology, 14(3), 343-356.
  • Müller, K., Prenzel, M., Sälzer, C., Mang, J. & Gebhardt, M. (in print). Wie schneiden Schülerinnen und Schüler an Sonder- und Förderschulen bei PISA ab? Analysen aus der PISA 2012-Zusatzerhebung zu Jugendlichen mit sonderpädagogischem Förderbedarf. In: Unterrichtswissenschaft.
  • Piezunka, A., Gresch, C., Sälzer, C. & Kroth, A. (2016). Identifizierung von Schülerinnen und Schülern nach Vorgaben der UN-BRK in bundesweiten Erhebungen. Sonderpädagogischer Förderbedarf, sonderpädagogische Unterstützung oder besondere Unterstützung? In: Zeitschrift für Pädagogik, supplement 62 “Schulische Inklusion”, 190-211, Weinheim/Basel: Beltz Juventa.


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