International test scores are irrelevant for national competitiveness or number of STEM workers

October 17, 2011 at 8:54 am 4 comments

Interesting report in Education Week.  They claim that the low performance of US students on international tests is really not that significant for competitiveness nor for getting more students into STEM.  They cite data from the World Economic Forum and from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to support the argument that there is no correlation between test scores and competitiveness or STEM labor shortages.

For decades, our rhetoric and education policies have been based on the premise that the ranking of U.S. students on international tests will lead to a decline in our nation’s economic competitiveness and a shortage of American scientists and engineers.

It is ironic, then, that given the rhetoric and policies surrounding international test-score comparisons—much of it unsupported by evidence—little attention is paid to two of the most powerful findings of these comparisons: the strong negative effects on student performance of both family poverty and concentrations of poverty in schools.

via Education Week: International Test Scores, Irrelevant Policies.

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Alfred Thompson  |  October 17, 2011 at 10:10 am

    Poverty is a hard problem to fix. If the powers that be admitted that was a problem in education they would be obligated to try to fix it. So while teachers point out that is possibily the biggest problem facing education people in power ignore them prefering to blame the teachers.
    As for the international test scores, as long as the US continues to attract many of the best students from overseas to higher education and careers we have a bit of a buffer. If that changes we are well and truly in trouble though. Just my opinion.

  • 2. Michael Goldweber  |  October 17, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    Interesting observation I had while visiting an NGO in Chennai, India. In many parts of India, the practice is to assess students at various age levels. Given the large population and the finite financial resources, if a student does not test well enough at any given stage, they are dropped from the school – i.e. public funding is unavailable to pay for school.

    Hence, by the time a student reaches “high school,” all the lower achieving students have been forced out of the school. Only the higher achievers and the wealthy are left to take the international tests.

    These tests are not comparing apples to apples.

    • 3. Mark Guzdial  |  October 17, 2011 at 5:02 pm

      The TIMSS takes that into account, now, through careful sampling. They know about countries where tracking or other mechanisms trim out the lower ability students. US still fares badly, mostly because our bottom edge is so lower and our top edge isn’t far enough above average to help much.

  • […] score average — bring the bottom up, and the average will take care of itself.  However, test scores may not actually have anything to economic competitiveness, because the economists that Roschelle et al. cite don’t really believe RAGS.  We have […]


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