PISA Scores: Much Ado About Nothing

My response to all this hysteria over PISA Scores: take a chill pill.

There has been much gnashing and wailing since the release of the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) scores. As Math Professor Solomon Friedberg pointed out in a Los Angeles Times article, the US did not perform in the top twenty countries in any category. Michelle Rhee, former Washington D.C. Schools Chancellor, wrote an incendiary op-ed piece in Politico about how Common Core will fix all these ills. Even the Lafayette Advertiser, for which I write occasionally, had an opinion piece claiming this was just the shock the nation needed to wake it from its complacency.

My response to all this hysteria: take a chill pill.

First of all, PISA scores do not provide a full picture of the US and its unique situation. Veteran teacher Mercedes Schneider wrote a devastating, fact-filled article on her blog that pointed out that simply because countries like Latvia, Estonia, and Vietnam are out-performing the US on these tests, does NOT signify some superpower triumvirate takeover of the world. Perhaps we should do like China, which only tests the city of Shanghai. Yes, Ireland and Poland outscored us, but what exactly does that mean? The US is still #1 in patents, has the world’s largest economy, and is in no danger any time soon of falling into some secondary status compared to these countries.

What exactly would these professors, chancellors, and editorial boards like us to do? Become testing hells as in certain Asian countries that place so much emphasis on high-stakes tests that their students crumble under the pressure and commit suicide? Often many of them have simply parroted the tired statements that the rigor of Common Core will solve all problems, even though there is no empirical evidence that this will be the case.

What PISA also does not take into account is the crushing effect poverty has on a nation’s scores. The US has a poverty rate higher than twenty percent, yet countries like Finland have rates less than a quarter of that. When you look at the scores of those portions of the US that have comparable poverty rates, our students rank first. What we need to do is address the poverty problem, and while I am not advocating that such things are easy or that education needs no improvement, it gets tiresome to hear oft-repeated mantras in the hopes that they will turn fiction into fact.

So when the next set of PISA scores come out three years from now, remember that it’s not a terribly useful tool, producing apples-to-oranges comparisons. Oh, and take the chill pill.

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One response to “PISA Scores: Much Ado About Nothing

  1. Pingback: PISA Brainwashing: Measure, Rank, Repeat | the becoming radical | MI ED News Clips

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