From: Japan and its standardized test-based education system By Kevin Burns
[At age 12] exam hell starts and from which students never really recover. The standardized test-based education system of Japan that starts in the junior high school years kills any kind of initiative, creativity and especially thinking outside of the box. Unfortunately, these last three are what Japan especially needs in the 21st century; perhaps Japan`s most challenging 100 years yet.
Let's just say that America decides to test its 17 year-olds in the areas of math, science and technology and decides to compare its results against other nation's students taking the same test. It's fair. It's objective and it's a good method for comparisons regarding educational rigor in the classroom and relative student abilities. Right? Well, it might be if the other schools were assessing their 17 year-olds too. But because of the wide range of student ages in other countries, they may very well be using the test scores of students up to age 21. I don't know about you, but I was a much better thinker and overall student when I was 20-21 than I was at 17-18. And I mean a lot better.
Now let's just say that a major testing company wants to compare the test scores of random American high school students and compare those scores to the random students in other nations using the same or similar test. It's fair. It's objective and it's a good method for comparisons regarding educational rigor in the classroom and relative student abilities. Right? Well, it might be if the populations of the samples are similarly random. But they aren't. A random sample from an American high school may include anyone of any ability and interest and motivation level. Not so in other nations in the world.
This international comparison doesn't work because most nations in the world select students out of the test sample before they ever reach the level that Americans would consider high school--much, much sooner in most countries. In many, if not most asian nations, a test is given typically at 7th-8th grade. Do well, continue on with your schooling. Don't, and your life options are few. In Germany, decisions are made for children at age 10, where they are divided into one of four tracks. Compulsory education ends at age 14. Japan and Germany are representative of the method most nations have for getting their best and brightest separated from the rest of the students. As a result, by the time international testing companies make their assessments, the top students in those countries are the only students available. Test only the top 10-20% of American students and then see how we stand.
I have given you two examples of why international comparisons of student testing is a false measurement and I haven't even mentioned poverty yet. Consider the following regarding the Program for International Student Assessment:
From: PISA: It's Poverty Not Stupid
NEAToday published remarks from National Association of Secondary School Principals Executive Director, Dr. Gerald N. Tirozzi, that have taken "a closer look at how the U.S. reading scores on PISA compared with the rest of the world’s, overlaying it with the statistics on how many of the tested students are in the government’s free and reduced lunch program for students below the poverty line." Tirozzi pointed out, “Once again, we’re reminded that students in poverty require intensive supports to break past a condition that formal schooling alone cannot overcome.” Tirozzi demonstrates the correlation between socio-economic status and reading by presenting the PISA scores in terms of individual American schools and poverty. While the overall PISA rankings ignore such differences in the tested schools, when groupings based on the rate of free and reduced lunch are created, a direct relationship is established.Tirozzi and others have reviewed the PISA data and rightly concluded that if we only tested kids from schools with less than 10% poverty rate we would score above every other nation in the world. And that is significant because the nations that score above us have already selected out for ability, interest and motivation, as I mentioned above, and they also all have much lower poverty rates. Of all the nations tested by PISA, the United States has the highest student poverty rate. We are testing all students regardless of ability and we are testing more students in poverty than any other nation. (I wonder how many of us know that America has more students in poverty than any other nation in the world. That just doesn't seem to fit our idea of America, does it?)
So the next time you see an international test report where the U.S. scores 17th in math behind the Czech Republic, Norway and Finland, remember that if we were to test similar populations against other nations, we would rank number one in the world. This matters. It really does because if these are not our problems we shouldn't be wasting our energy and resources trying to fix them. We should be focused on the real issues not the false ones.