International Comparisons – Should We Pay Attention or Not? What Are Your Thoughts?

According to the Key Results of the PISA study which was recently released, “PISA assesses the extent to which 15-year-old students have acquired key knowledge and skills that are essential for full participation in modern societies. The assessment, which focuses on reading, mathematics, science and problem-solving, does not just ascertain whether students can reproduce what they have learned; it also examines how well they can extrapolate from what they have learned and apply that knowledge in unfamiliar settings, both in and outside of school. This approach reflects the fact that modern societies reward individuals not for what they know, but for what they can do with what they know.”

We as educators are very familiar with these international benchmarking tests and resultant comparisons between countries.  Even this particular study allows you to search their database to create your own comparison of countries thus making the desire to compare US schools to those in Finland or China or Germany or Japan or anywhere the test has been given.

According to these key results:

Shanghai-China, Hong Kong-China, Singapore, Japan and Finland are the top five performers in science in PISA 2012.

Between 2006 and 2012, Italy, Poland and Qatar, and between 2009 and 2012, Estonia, Israel and Singapore increased their shares of top performers and simultaneously reduced their shares of low performers in science.

Across OECD countries, 8% of students are top performers in science (Level 5 or 6). These students can identify, explain and apply scientific knowledge and knowledge about science in a variety of complex life situations.

While we have often heard about the performance of some of the top five performers and found ourselves compared to them not only on PISA but also on TIMSS and other studies, some of the other countries that are increasing their top performers are new players on the international comparison field.

There is usually much discussion about the results of these tests, such as the NPR story about the results being sobering, but recently there has also been much controversy such as are students in Shanghai representative of the typical fifteen year old.  An article appeared in The Washington Post addressing just this question.  Other discussion points often include the business world that focuses on the need to produce STEM ready students to enter globally competitive fields.  The Business Insider included this in their education area within weeks of the report’s release.

So the question becomes – should we worry or not, accept comparisons or not, and more importantly – are our students learning science that they can then utilize in real world situations.  Wondering what your views are on this topic?

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One Comment

  1. Kristi
    Posted December 18, 2013 at 12:28 am | Permalink

    I think there is a lot more to being a successful international competitor than just being good at ‘science’. ‘Science’ is definitely important, but if it doesn’t come with people skills, the ability to work in groups, leadership, project management, ingenuity, design skills, communication skills, marketing, right attitude, etc.. then we only have half the picture.

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