We Keep Testing, and Nothing Changes

It is worth noting that American students have never received high scores on international tests. On the first such test, a test of mathematics in 1964, senior year students in the US scored last of twelve nations, and eighth-grade students scored next to last. But in the following fifty years, the US outperformed the other eleven nations by every measure, whether economic productivity, military might, technological innovation, or democratic institutions. This raises the question of whether the scores of fifteen-year-old students on international tests predict anything of importance or whether they reflect that our students lack motivation to do their best when taking a test that doesn’t count toward their grade or graduation. …

Obama and Duncan used the latest international test scores as proof that more testing, more rigor, was needed. The Obama administration, acting out the script of “A Nation at Risk,” repeatedly treats our scores on these tests as a harbinger of economic doom, rather than as evidence that more testing does not produce higher test scores. Now, a dozen years after the passage of George W. Bush’s NCLB, it is clear that testing every child every year does not produce better education, nor does it raise our standing on the greatly overvalued international tests.

Diane Ravitch, in The New York Review of Books, on the politics of education reform and testing in America, and a review of Yong Zhao’s book on China’s history of testing: Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon: Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World.

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Photo: rzganoza, Flickr