Thursday, December 5, 2013

PISA Tests and the Problem of International Tests

By now the news of the latest "international test rankings" are out to the general public, and the "sky-is-falling" hysteria about public education is set to begin again.  Sadly, Americans will continually cite this shocking news without any knowledge of what the rankings really mean, or even how they are derived. While nearly two-thirds of Americans had no knowledge of the CommonCore national standards even a couple months ago, I would bet that more than 90% of Americans have never heard of the PISA test or the TIMSS test, even as they refer to America's educational struggles in "international competition." Alas, the international comparison is fraught with faulty logic, not the least of which is comparing vastly different countries and cultures based on single assessments. While some countries perform better on small student samples of standardized tests, that doesn't mean much beyond the ability to take a test. So, while Singapore's students may perform twice as well on the test, ask yourself if their doctors are twice as effective at healing, or if their buildings are twice as high and strong. Are their poems and paintings twice as beautiful? Is their economy twice as strong? And where is Singapore's Apple or GE or Tesla or SpaceX or Microsoft. Bill Gates is a big CC proponent, but he never had it as a student, so how was he successful? We need to think carefully about these questions before accepting that radical change is the answer. Or that it would even change anything.

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