Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Is Comparing PISA Scores an Exercise in Futility?

Dr. Jim Taylor’s post “PISA Test Doomsayers May Have It Wrong” puts some perspective on how our students did in comparison to other countries. We are bombarded every day by those who have declared our educational system “unsalvageable” and in need of reform, but Taylor points out clearly what those who get hung up on the numbers fail to acknowledge. Perhaps is futile to compare US student performance to other countries because to do so ignores some very big differences. Here’s just a few of those differences:
  • US has one of the highest poverty rates among developed countries. 22 percent of Americans live in poverty compared to Finland a Denmark who have poverty rates under 3 percent.”
  • About half of the 40 million elementary and secondary students in the United States qualify for free or reduced lunches.
  • The United States has the greatest income inequity among developed countries as well.
  • The United States has the greatest demographic diversity with more than 25 percent of our students who speak English as a second language.
  • The United States has one of the highest low-birth weight and worst access to health care to any of these countries.
Taylor goes on to show, if you break down international test scores into equivalent groups, the United States does just about as well as any of the countries at the top of the list.
I must agree with Dr. Taylor though when he admits that for a large segment of our students, the education system does not work. He puts that segment at 60 percent. We do need to find a way to make education work for all our students.
Let’s not minimize the real problems we have in our schools and education system. We do have some persistent and difficult problems in our schools. But instead of panic and dispensing with the rhetoric of gloom and doom, let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.

UPDATE: This afternoon, I stumbled across this post from NASSP entitled "PISA: It's Poverty Not Stupid."  It shows even more dramatically what happens when the United States poverty rate is taken into consideration with these international comparisons.

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