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Demystifying the Link between Performance on International Tests and Economic Competitiveness

14 August 2009 12,399 One Comment

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is now using nearly $5 billion to entice states to adopt internationally benchmarked standards. The National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) have argued forcefully for internationally benchmarking education standards as well in a report titled Benchmarking for Success. As a result, NGA and CCSSO are leading the Common Core State Standards Initiative, which aims to develop common standards in math and English. What has been used to justify “international benchmarking” and common standards is the claim that American students are not adequately prepared to compete globally as evidenced by their poor performance on international tests such as PISA and TIMSS. To help them to become globally competitive, internationally benchmarked standards are needed. The unstated but obvious assumption is that international test scores are indicators of global competitiveness.

I have used Keith Baker’s analysis of the relationship (or lack thereof ) between test scores on the First International Mathematics Study (FIMS) and other more meaningful indicators of a nation’s health such as wealth, rate of economic growth, livability, democracy, and creativity in my presentations and upcoming book to show the assumption is erroneous. Baker’s article was published in Phi Delta Kappan in October, 2007 (v89 n2 p101-104?. Yesterday Christopher Tienken, newly appointed editor of AASA Journal of Scholarship and Practice, brought to my attention a study he conducted. His study more directly dealt with the issue between performances on international tests and economic competitiveness. In this study, Tienken examined the relationship between ranks on international education tests and future economic competitiveness using the Global Competitiveness Index (GCI). Among other findings, the most interesting is:

There is weak, non-significant, or negative correlation between ranks on international tests and ranks on Global Competitiveness for countries that ranked in the top 50% on the GCI, meaning more developed countries.

By the way, the U.S. has consistently ranked very high and #1 on the GCI in 2008–2009 again.

Tienken reported his findings in an article entitled Rankings of International Achievement Test Performance and Economic Strength: Correlation or Conjecture? published in the International Journal of Education Policy and Leadership in 2008.

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One Comment »

  • jsb16 said:

    I think the only people who want to make drastic decisions based on single measures of performance are those who don’t really understand the nature of measuring performance. That doesn’t mean that international tests can’t be useful or that international standards shouldn’t be considered, but it does mean they can’t be the end-all and be-all of education. Especially since our knowledge of conceptual assessment is really in its infancy.

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