U.S. high school students flub international exams and the National Assessment of Educational Progress because they’re lazy, not stupid, writes Alexandra Starr in Slate.
Nothing is at stake for kids when they take the international exams and the NAEP. Students don’t even learn how they scored. And that probably affects their performance. American teenagers, in other words, may not be stupid. It could be that when they have nothing to gain (or lose), they’re lazy.
Students improve dramatically when they know the exam counts.
Look at Texas: In 2004, results counted toward graduation for the first time, and pass rates on both the math and English portions of the test leapt almost 20 points. According to Julie Jary, who oversees student assessment for the state, no substantive alterations were made to the test. What changed was students’ motivation: When their diplomas were hanging in the balance, they managed to give more correct answers.
Starr argues other countries do more to motivate teenagers to do their best on international exams.
Update: Alexander Russo points out that students’ lack of motivation to do well on low-stakes exams is nothing new. But scores on other low-stakes tests are rising while high school scores are not.