Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Just What Do These International PISA Scores Mean? Nothing!

"There is no association between test scores and national success, and, contrary to one of the major beliefs driving US education policy for nearly a half a century, international test scores are nothing to be concerned about." Keith Baker, "Are International Tests Worth Anything?" Phi Delta Kappan October 2007
Do the PISA international test scores really mean anything? No, according to Keith Baker, who once worked as a researcher for the US Department of Education. Diane Ravitch quoted Baker in her post at the Washington Post, "Four Lessons on the New PISA Scores." Ravitch, who certainly knows more about the history of international test scores than Secretary Duncan, points out, if anything, these PISA scores show that "the billions invested in testing, test prep, and accountability" have not done anything to raise our international test score standings. Duncan's mythical connection between international test scores and economic success is a tired one, and as Baker points out in his article, "Are International Tests Worth Anything?" it is wrong.

Besides, it appears that this data isn't all it is cracked up to be. David Stout at Time magazine points out in "China Is Cheating the World Student Rankings,"  that the Chinese, unlike the United States and other countries did not release all their scores. They only released the scores for ShangHai. As Stout points out, Hong Kong does not count for the Chinese, because they send in their own data because of their level of independence from China. Naturally, policymakers and media pundits interpret the scores as representing all of China when they only represent a portion. Makes one wonder what other games other countries are playing to manipulate the scores.

This illustrates a BIG problem with this international score carnival. There's no way to be sure that we're comparing apples to apples as they say, so these comparisons are meaningless. These rankings are worthless because they tell us absolutely nothing about the state and conditions of our schools. They only serve as a political talking point for a Department of Education still pushing a failed standards-testing-accountability policy that's failing because it does not address the real issues in our schools. And, if you disagree with them, then you're defending the status quo. I hate to break the news to them, but methinks they're actually perpetuating the status quo. It's really sad that Arne Duncan and his Department of Education would use these scores for propaganda purposes to continue to push his failing education agenda, but he's living up to his true calling: he's a politician, not an educator.


  1. I heard Dr. Yong Zhao of the University of Oregon speak about these international tests a couple of months ago. He explained that there's actually a negative correlation between these test scores and innovation, confidence, and creativity. The better students do on these tests, the lower their scores on measures of innovation, confidence, and creativity. Do we want a country of test-takers or a country of innovators? It's a simple question, if you ask me.

    1. His book World Class Learners goes to great length pointing out exactly what you describe. I think Zhao is right on, when he says that we have a choice: Do we want good test-takers or do we want creative and entrepreneurial learners? The effects of this testing culture is driving all of the creativity out of our schools. Thanks Jayme for reminding me of Zhao's work.