The U.S. never was first in the world on international achievement tests, according to the latest Report on American Education from the Brown Center at Brookings. The report also debunks the “myth” that “Finland leads the world in education, with China and India coming on fast.”
Finland has a superb school system, but, significantly, it scores at the very top only on PISA, not on other international assessments. Finland also has a national curriculum more in sync with a “literacy” thrust, making PISA a friendly judge in comparing Finnish students with students from other countries. And what about India and China? Neither country has ever participated in an international assessment. How they would fare is unknown.
Finnish students scored very well in 1964, “decades before many of
the policies targeting professionalism, equity, decentralization, and de-streaming were adopted,” the report notes. Cultural and societal factors “may be the real drivers of success.”
Shanghai’s success on PISA proves nothing about Chinese students, researchers argue.
For centuries, Shanghai has been the jewel of Chinese schooling, far ahead of its urban peers and light-years ahead of rural schools. Shanghai’s municipal website reports that 83.8 percent of high school graduates enter college; the national figure is 24.0 percent.
The report also asks: Which states are racing to the top? Judging by National
Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores, it’s not necessarily the ones that got federal Race to the Top grants.
Brown looked at both short- and long-term gains on NAEP and controlled for changes in the demographic characteristics of each state’s students.
Eight states—Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, District of Columbia, Kentucky, New Jersey, Hawaii, and Pennsylvania—stand out for making superior gains. At the other end of the distribution, Iowa, Nebraska, West Virginia, and Michigan stand out for underperforming. Five of the eight impressive states won grants, but three did not.
A previously part of the report looks at how well NAEP’s eighth-grade math exam matches up with the Common Core Standards adopted by most states. NAEP’s test covers math concepts that are supposed to be learned by eighth grade; the average question is two to three years below Common Core’s eighth-grade content. The new core-based exams are expected to test whether students have learned the standards for that grade. Scores will be much, much lower, researchers predict.