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Nature Article: Interpreting International Test Scores: Is the U.S. Really Behind?

3 September 2009 10,828 2 Comments

Student performances on international tests such as TIMSS and PISA have often been used to show the poor quality of American education and America’s future is in danger. Proponents of national standards have also used them to justify their efforts. I have in different places cited evidence and analysis to show that international tests do not predict the future of nations. Here is another article that provides yet another perspective on how we should interpret international test scores.

Published by the weekly science journal Nature, the article says:

“International testing that is used to predict the grim future of US science and technology is being vastly misinterpreted.”

Here are some of the main points:

  • It is misleading to gauge the relative position of the United States in the world based on a simplistic ranking of its students’ test scores. This is much like measuring shoe size to predict runners’ future race times while ignoring their past performance. There are substantial methodological limitations in using these tests to compare nations, including reporting ‘rankings’ that are based on minute differences that are not statistically significant.
  • Without a doubt, science, maths and technology education is needed in today’s society, whether for its citizens to understand enough to participate in public debate or just to operate the technology of everyday life. However, some argue for more advanced courses as if they want to prepare all students to be scientists or engineers. We believe that there is something fundamentally wrong with such an approach.
  • History suggests that policies designed to stockpile scientists and engineers are counter-productive.
  • The beauty of brandishing a simple number or a few facts is that they fit in a single headline and focus the reader’s attention. However, before we send teams of educators to discover the educational secrets of Finland, Singapore, New Zealand, South Korea or Japan, we should do more study into the nature and context of their education systems.
  • In a country that has a long history of innovation and high productivity, we should start by looking at how our best schools educate top performers. It is unlikely that they do so by the types of education heralded in other countries.

Read the article here: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v453/n7191/full/453028a.html

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2 Comments »

  • Jesse Turner said:

    Dr. Zhao, Perhaps their is a lesson here for our new president in the wisdom of another president. Teddy Rossevelt said: “There is not in all America a more dangerous trait than the deification of mere smartness unaccompanied by any sense of moral responsibility.”
    Hopefully, America has not forgotten the lessons that poetry, art, religion, geography, and history can teach us.
    Sincerely,
    Jess Turner

  • lianghong said:

    Dr. Zhao,In my opinion, standardization and general education are not necessarily contradictions and confrontations. The knowledge can be tested by standardized tests is the foundation of general education. Improper use may stifle the creativity of students, there is no standard at all, then, it is difficult to ensure basic knowledge and mastery of basic skills. Sincerely,lianghong

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