Monday, December 13, 2010

Not Helpful

Delaware's "News Journal " featured the glaring Opinion page headline: "Student test results should be a call to arms". The headline and short piece refers to the results of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). PISA tests are administered to 15-year-old students in 65 nations and/or education systems (for example, China might receive a ranking, but in their case only Shanghai participated).

President Obama said the results should create a "Sputnik moment" for the country. Chester Finn a top ranking education official in the Reagan Administration added "Pearl Harbor" to the list of comparable national catastrophes.

When ranked by nation the US was 25 out of 34 in mathematics, 17th out of 34 in science and 14th in reading.

If there was a ranking of hyperbolic reaction, the US would have ranked last, with analogies and statements at the Junior High School level.

If we were a thoughtful, introspective nation we would take a deep breath and pause, before doing ANYTHING, before making ANY statements. If we are going to continue to place a great deal of importance on test scores, then the number one lesson we should take away from PISA is that what we are doing is not working. However, it seems that many decision makers will take PISA as the signal to run even faster down the wrong road.

Consider a few facts around the PISA high performer, Finland. Finland does very little testing of students. In fact, the only mandatory Finnish test is at the end of high school, before admission to college. Finland's student population of 7 to 14- year-olds receives far LESS instructional time than other countries. Also, Finland's teachers are almost all unionized.

Consider also that the PISA results were a part of a report that analyzed education systems and had some interesting, but unreported findings: Students from low socio-economic backgrounds (ie poor) will usually score a full grade level behind students from more affluent backgrounds. Private schools do no better than public schools once family economic status is factored in. School systems that must compete with charters and vouchers for students show no advantage in scoring. Schools that have grade promotion requirements (repeat the grade until you score out) actually score lower. Systems in which student tracking and grouping is allowed have lower test scores and higher achievement gaps.

I have thrown a lot of rambling facts around in this post. Let me try to knit them together in some kind of conclusion.

The News Journal and other purveyors of sensational doom about our educational system are not helping matters. In truth, they are contributing to the problem by creating a sense of panic in policy makers. Panic will lead to more of the same, faster: More testing, more high stakes for students and teachers, more class time, more teacher work time, more data, more, more, more.

Again, we need to take a deep breath and start thinking outside of our own box. And we should consider the old axiom of working smarter, not harder.

1 comment:

  1. The News Journal is a virtually worthless organization when it comes to education. Simply put, they are bought and paid for. Further, they appear to have the intelligence of a Mynah Bird: