Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Obsession with International Test Scores and Arne Duncan 'Crying Wolf''

Yesterday, the media continued the tradition of sounding the alarm: "Our schools are doomed according to the latest PISA, or Program for International Assessment, scores." NPR chimes in with this one, "PISA Test Results for US Students Are Sobering," and Huffington Post has this headline, "US Test Scores Remain Stagnant While Other Countries See Rapid Rise." NBC news echoed Huffington Post with this one, "US Teens Lag in Global Education Rankings as Asian Countries Rise to the Top,"  One has to question when this incessant obsession with international test scores is going to stop. Why all this fuss about being first in test scores? Do they really think that somehow, magically, our nation will be transformed and educated when we suddenly move up the rankings?

Then there's Education Secretary Arne Duncan who is "Crying-Wolf" once more, when he says, "We're seeing a Picture of Educational Stagnation" as he pointed out at About the only thing stagnant is his incessant droning about these test scores every time they come out.  Duncan hasn't learned the old wisdom that says "If you cry wolf too many times, people stop listening to you." Perhaps its time we do just that. He, no doubt, will use these scores as an opportunity to push his educational agenda of National Standards, National Testing, and tying teacher evaluations to test scores. His playbook of propaganda has become all too transparent over the past several years.

The truth is out there though. As Diane Ravitch pointed out in her new book Reign of Error, and as she points out in this Washington Post op-ed, "The myth persists that once our nation led the world on international tests, but we have fallen from that exalted position in recent years. Wrong, wrong, wrong." Ravitch points out that "THE UNITED STATES HAS NEVER BEEN FIRST IN THE WORLD, NOR EVEN NEAR THE TOP, ON INTERNATIONAL TESTS."

So why this continued obsession with being first? We have never been first since international assessments were first given in the 1960s or 1970s. Does that mean we haven't ever been economically competitive since? I think the history of business and industry shows that the economy did well during various times even when our international test scores were in the tank. The fact is, OUR ECONOMIC VIABILITY IS NOT TIED TO TEST SCORES and I would add, being first on international assessments isn't going to change our economic fortunes.

Perhaps it's time we, as educators, stopped accepting this mythology perpetuated by Arne Duncan and his Department of Education. It's time for us to demand that the media quit participating in this absurd obsession with test scores and comparing our students' performance with other countries, when we know that other countries game the system and test only more selective students.

Arne Duncan has not yet learned that apples do not compare to oranges, except perhaps in the narrow world he lives in. Educators at all levels need to start countering and questioning this Duncanesque perversion of the truth, and quit buying-in to the false mythologies his department of education is perpetuating. Sure, our schools sometimes struggle. We who are in the schools fight to reach students every single day. We teach our hearts out, and we have Duncan's Doom and Gloom constantly bellowing from Washington.

As far as I am concerned, he has "Cried Wolf" for the last time. He has nothing else left to say worthwhile. So I am no longer listening to him. I can't remove him from the Department of Education, but I can choose to stop listening to his blather. The sooner the Obama administration moves on and Duncan moves out, we can hopefully stop chasing myths and get down to the real business of improving education.

The truth is we are not going to test our way to economic prosperity, so it's time to realize that.

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