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China Enters “Testing-free” Zone: The New Ten Commandments of Education Reform

22 August 2013 47,941 25 Comments

No standardized tests, no written homework, no tracking. These are some of the new actions China is taking to lessen student academic burden. The Chinese Ministry of Education released Ten Regulations to Lessen Academic Burden for Primary School Students this week for public commentary. The Ten Regulations are introduced as one more significant measure to reform China’s education, in addition to further reduction of academic content, lowering the academic rigor of textbooks, expanding criteria for education quality, and improving teacher capacity.

The regulations included in the published draft are:

  1. Transparent admissions. Admission to a school cannot take into account any achievement certificates or examination results. Schools must admit all students based on their residency without considering any other factors.
  2. Balanced Grouping. Schools must place students into classes and assign teachers randomly. Schools are strictly forbidden to use any excuse to establish “fast-track” and “slow-track” classes.
  3. “Zero-starting point” Teaching. All teaching should assume all first graders students begin at zero proficiency. Schools should not artificially impose higher academic expectations and expedite the pace of teaching.
  4. No Homework. No written homework is allowed in primary schools. Schools can however assign appropriate experiential homework by working with parents and community resources to arrange field trips, library visits, and craft activities.
  5. Reducing Testing. No standardized testing is allowed for grades 1 through 3; For 4th grade and up, standardized testing is only allowed once per semester for Chinese language, math, and foreign language. Other types of tests cannot be given more than twice per semester.
  6. Categorical Evaluation. Schools can only assess students using the categories of “Exceptional, Excellent, Adequate, and Inadequate,” replacing the traditional 100-point system.
  7. Minimizing Supplemental Materials. Schools can use at most one type of materials to supplement the textbook, with parental consent. Schools and teachers are forbidden to recommend, suggest, or promote any supplemental materials to students.
  8. Strictly Forbidding Extra Class. Schools and teachers cannot organize or offer extra instruction after regular schools hours, during winter and summer breaks and other holidays. Public schools and their teachers cannot organize or participate in extra instructional activities.
  9. Minimum of One Hour of Physical Exercise. Schools are to guarantee the offering of physical education classes in accordance with the national curriculum, physical activities and eye exercise during recess.
  10. Strengthening Enforcement. Education authorities at all levels of government shall conduct regular inspection and monitoring of actions to lessen student academic burden and publish findings. Individuals responsible for academic burden reduction are held accountable by the government.
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25 Comments »

  • Joe Bower (@joe_bower) said:

    Wow. This is huge.

    I find it sadly ironic that China and the US are swapping policies. Your book Catching Up or Leading the Way is more accurate today than it even was when you wrote it a couple years ago.

    Your updates and insights on China are an important part of reversing corporate, test based education reform.

    Joe

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  • Judie Haynes said:

    I knew China was heading in this direction but never expected it to be such a sweeping change for elementary schools. The policies in the U.S. are going backwards.

  • The English Major said:

    My students in central Beijing are rather smug about their schools following these rules… and the resulting free time. :)

    Sadly, some schools are still risking punishment by assigning “practice papers” and giving “quizzes”, rather than losing their rankings. As well, parents–who are understandably concerned about giving their child the best opportunities–are providing homework for after school, weekends and holidays. It will take a while for these new rules to become an accepted part of Chinese culture.

  • Hack Education Weekly News: Obama’s Plans for Higher Education, the Amount of “Stuf” in Oreo Double Stuf Cookies, and Other Disappointments said:

    [...] The University of Oregon’s Yong Zhao reports that China has proposed new education reforms, which include “no standardized tests, no written homework, no tracking.” More details, and a link to the proposal, via his blog. [...]

  • OTR Links 08/24/2013 | doug --- off the record said:

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  • Grant W said:

    The headline is not supported by the Principles. There will be standardized testing, perhaps twice per year from grades 4 and up. Nor is this ‘better’ than the current US policy; it is more testing than we will have under Common Core. So, I am puzzled by the comments.

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  • Bob said:

    I enjoyed the discussions inspired by your keynote address to our teachers here in Shanghai American School two years ago. However, I am wondering if these policies (described above) will result in a flight from public education for all those who have the means to do so. Perhaps those who feel that the school’s focus on the whole child contradicts what the parents’ own experience and traditions hold to be the function and role of schools. It will be interesting to see how these “Ten Regulations” are received by the communities, especially in the context of the natural correction to rapid economic growth China is just now beginning to experience. Will the parents be patient and trust that the changes will result in educational preparation for their children (or) will these rapid and drastic changes exceed the elasticity of trust such that the parents opt to supplement what they perceive to be inadequate educational practices with additional academic work outside the school day? We are already seeing an increase in the demand for test-prep centers and services that are deemed to give students a competitive edge when preparing for secondary school and university admissions. These will certainly be interesting times! :)

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  • John Hollenbeck said:

    It’s interesting how these commandments are largely worded in the negative. No standardized tests, tracking and homework may well be good things, but it is not enough to celebrate their absence. What are the children going to do in their stead?

    It’s much more important to talk about what the will do than what they won’t.

  • Van Whaley said:

    What a list of reform initiatives! I appreciate the theme of lessening student academic burden. I also support an overhaul of the public education system. We need more transparency in our school policies and more common sense in our children’s curriculum. On a point-by-point basis, I have some concerns about a few of the regulations. In it’s entirety, I could support these regulations.

    I would not hesitate to send my daughter to a school that complied with all of these regulations.

  • Nakeia said:

    I don’t know if I’m completely sold on this one. Although I think most of the regulations are positive, there are some that I’m concerned about. For example, regulation #7: Minimizing supplemental materials. I agree that some schools and/or teachers can go overboard with “extra” resources but I also believe supplemental materials can benefit the child. It may be those supplemental materials that provide a better understanding of the content. The regulation states that “schools and teachers are forbidden to recommend, suggest, or promote any supplemental materials to students.” I wonder what the teacher’s response will be to those students who ask for more resources on a topic.

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  • Mrs. B said:

    This is an interesting development and one that I have been preaching for the last few of years since I became involved in teaching in China. I tutor English Language on the side and hence have had the opportunity to experience a diverse sampling of generations. I also teach a “teachers” class each term. This has given me the chance to get to know people from age 1.5 to 60.
    So much of what I see is what appears to be a fast tract to a very specific job. The Gaokao slots people into fields that they have no interest in. The people who are best at memorization are the ones who make it into college. The educations are very linear. By the time they get out of college they have experienced very little and have minimal life coping skills.
    I actually had one of my university classes play with mud. Only one student in the class have ever walked through a mud puddle. They had no clue what would happen as you added more water to dirt. 98 percent of the adults have no idea how a person really catches a cold. None of them know what the ADA format is or how to draw up a topical outline. The ability to think ahead and foresee possible outcomes is stunted.
    While my job is to teach oral English, I try to introduce it utilizing something they will be able to use in real life. One of the big ones is to prepare a ten year plan. They fight me on it through about half of the lessons but by the end they suddenly realize how important it is to plan. They learn things that they had no concept of prior to the lessons. The importance of being armed in advance, how to research effectively, how to take charge of their lives rather than letting it just happen. What they find out is really shocking to them.
    Oral English classes with foreign teachers is viewed as a “coffee break” class. I don’t want to be remembered as a coffee-break teacher. I want to make a positive difference in their lives.

  • Richard Askey said:

    I understand why you are writing as you do, but you must be aware that there are many features which have led to US productivity. A solid set of laws, less corruption than in many countries are two obvious things. Your readers might find it useful to know a bit more about what types of questions are asked in China. Here is a link to a paper which contains information and some questions from ninth grade provincial exams.
    http://www.icme12.org/upload/submission/2034_F.pdf
    I would like your comments on the problem in Figure 4. The first part should be relatively easy, but when a similar problem was given in TIMSS Advanced students did very poorly on it. Those were students taking advanced math in the last year of high school, and the Chinese question was for all students in ninth grade in Henan. The second part is harder. Not only is the computational complexity harder, the school program does not teach how to find a line perpendicular to a given line until two years later. I think this shows that students will have to put together things on their own. I am curious how you would solve this part using just what is in the grade 9 curriculum.
    Here is a problem from the eighth grade TIMSS in 2011.
    Which method would be used to compute 1/3 – 1/4.
    (A) (1-1)/(4-3)
    (B) 1/(4-3)
    (C) (3-4)/(3*4)
    (D) (4-3)/(3*4)
    If a student knows that fractions are numbers and can compute a little with whole numbers, three of the four answers are clearly wrong. Here is a little data on the results.
    A B C D
    South Korea 2.7 6.9 4.2 86.0
    Japan 15.4 11.1 8.2 65.3
    Average 25.4 26.0 9.4 37.1
    US 32.5 26.1 10.7 29.1
    Finland 42.3 29.5 8.7 16.1

    In your reading about Finland, have you come across serious comments about the problems they have in school mathematics? I have not read any from people in the Finnish education establishment.

  • More on China's move away from standardized testing - James DiGioiaJames DiGioia said:

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