Is PISA the best test?

U.S. students don’t excel on PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), but it may not be the best test, writes Jay Mathews on Class Struggle.  He cites a math question for 15-year-olds highlighted by Brookings Institution scholar Tom Loveless, a member of the U.S. advisory board to PISA:

For a rock concert a rectangular field of size 100 m by 50 m was reserved for the audience. The concert was completely sold out and the field was full with all the fans standing. Which one of the following is likely to be the best estimate of the total number of people attending the concert?

A. 2000

B. 5000

C. 20000

D. 50000

E. 100000

Like Mathews, I answered 5,000; PISA says the answer is 20,000. Loveless agrees that the question involves trivial math and would “throw kids off.” Not every kid goes to rock concerts and not every culture is willing to cram four people in a square meter of space.

“PISA exams are written by the losing side in a century-old debate over how to teach math,” Mathews writes. The pro-PISA progressives “want to make math instruction more relevant to the real world, and emphasize mathematical reasoning more than calculation,” while the anti-PISA and pro-TIMSS  “traditionalists say you can’t reason well without mastering the fundamentals.”

Unlike TIMSS, PISA’s approach to science leans left, Mathews writes.

On PISA’s student questionnaire, those who support statements such as “I am in favor of having laws that regulate factory emissions even if this would increase the price of products” are deemed to be environmentally responsible. Those who disagree are not.

Despite the differences between PISA and TIMSS, however, some of the same countries —Hong Kong, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Japan — do very well on both.

The feds are spending $350 million to help states develop common tests to go with common standards.

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