The Myths of International Comparisons

The Brookings Institution, one of our famous Washington DC “think tanks”, has published it’s annual report on American education.

And they have a few items that don’t quite support the “were getting trounced by the rest of the civilized world” view of international comparisons.

Two myths of international assessments are debunked—the first, that the United States once led the world on international tests of achievement. It never has. The second myth is 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.

Other parts of the report are very critical of the federal Department of Education’s Race to the Top competition as well as the testing instruments used to assess student progress by most of the “winners”.

Is this the final word on… well, anything?

No.

Just one more piece of evidence that education is a complex process, comparing student learning in two different states is hard enough, and international comparisons are even more unreliable.

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