The International PISA Tests Are Leading America Astray
Lionel Van Deerlin Professor of Communications and Public Policy,
San Diego State
Posted: March 15, 2011 05:07 PM
Yes, we need to change the education system.
Not because we tested so poorly — again — on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests. Rather, because the world has changed and we are witnessing a new, global, technology-driven, knowledge economy.
Yet, every three years when the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) tests 15-year-olds around the world in math, science and reading, we go crazy with angst and despair and promise to fix the current education system.
Former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch, an otherwise trustworthy spokesperson, exclaimed: “Our students scored in the middle of the pack! We are not No. 1! Shanghai is No. 1! We are doomed unless we overtake Shanghai!”
The New York Times, also writing about the PISA tests, interviewed U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan who said: “We have to see this as a wake-up call … I know skeptics will want to argue with the results, but we consider them to be accurate and reliable, and we have to see them as a challenge to get better,” he added. “The United States came in 23rd or 24th in most subjects. We can quibble, or we can face the brutal truth that we’re being out-educated.”
I guess we need more tests to get our students ready for the next PISA?
No. It can be argued that we already have too many tests.
The No Child Left Behind Act, which will be reviewed this summer — and hopefully remedied to allow teachers to focus more on “new thinking skills” and less on “teaching to the test” — may offer some respite. But this is only the beginning of what must be a serious effort to end the endless reliance on test scores, nationally and internationally, and focus on the needs of the workplace in the future.
Yogi Berra’s famous advice was “You can look it up.”
Today, with the proliferation of the Internet, the computerization of news archives and libraries available on the Worldwide Web, literally thousands of references are available at the click of a mouse.
The challenge today is not acquiring information; it is determining which information is relevant — how to separate the wheat from the chaff, the good from the not so good information, and acquire the thinking skills necessary to enter the creative and innovative workforce. Moreover, most analysts studying the new global economy agree that the growing “creative and innovative” economy represents America’s path to a brighter economic future.
In his book, Mozart’s Brain, Dr Richard Restak uses the words “plastic” and “malleable” to describe the brain. He believes that we can be creative by acquiring the right series of “repertoires”; that we can “preselect the kind of brain (we) will have by choosing richly valued experiences.” In short, he and many other neuroscientists are beginning to conclude that we all have the capacity to be creative.
Whether we can all be a Picasso or Einstein is another matter. Importantly, by focusing on a curriculum that gives young people the new thinking skills they need, we can help ensue our nation’s — and our children’s — success in the new economy.
Yes, Shanghai kids outperformed the world on the latest PISA tests. Jiang Xueqin, a deputy principal at Peking University High School in Beijing, cautioned “Chinese schools are very good at preparing their students for standardized tests but fail to prepare them for higher education and the knowledge economy.”Funny that China seems to be mimicking the U.S. and the U.S. worries about China. Maybe we both should be listening to Deputy Principal Jiang Xueqin.