The OECD’s PISA examination and country comparisons have become central to discourse about the quality of education internationally. Neo-liberal assumptions were built into the OECD indicators program and its PISA exam and reports from its origins.

Developing an international test involves complex negotiations, based on assumptions rooted in a social context, culture and language of the test developers. It is also imbedded in a particular way of knowing, one that values the appearance of “objectivity” with a heavy emphasis on numbers. None of this complexity is obvious when the results are reported as a single number that fits nicely into a chart or league table. Seldom are the assumptions and structure of the testing model exposed to public view.

This paper describes political origins of the OECD program and assumptions on which it is based.