The latest PISA international test score comparisons are out, and they portray US education is pretty mediocre. According to the charts, we ranked 20th among other countries in reading, 30th in math, and 23rd in science. As parents, community members, politicians, and education critics begin asking about these numbers, we teachers need to be well informed about them. So along with knowing about the report itself, it’s wise to understand some of their limitations. An excellent article on the Education Week “Curriculum Matters” webpage outlines these. For example, the difference between scores in many cases is not statistically significant, so the actual order in which countries are listed means very little. The best we can actually say about the ranking for US reading scores is that we’re somewhere between 19th and 31st. Rather, we’re grouped among a cluster of countries, with no clear difference among them.
But while we must acknowledge that American schools are not overall high flyers these days perhaps the biggest question is what we should be doing about it in schools that struggle, and this is where teachers’ voices need to be heard. Of course we’ll hear plenty from advocates of harder tests, blanket standards, more charter schools, and firing lots of teachers. But thoughtful educators should do all they can to inform the public and policy-makers about the factors that really can make a difference and that continue to be neglected in too many of the efforts presently called “school reform.” Read Sonia Nieto’s new book, Finding Joy in Teaching Students of Diverse Backgrounds. Or study the role of student attitudes and the classroom contexts that influence them, in the Chicago Consortium on School Research study, Teaching Adolescents to Become Learners: The Role of Non-Cognitive Factors in Shaping School Performance. And then speak up about these things and what you do to address them in YOUR classroom.
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