Students in Shanghai stunned education experts when China made its first appearance in international standardized testing. In the recently released results of the 2009 PISA tests, students from Shanghai scored highest across the board on mathematics, science, and reading. Education leaders in the United States, which scored roughly average in the three categories, see the test results as a wake-up call.
PISA (the Program for International Student Assessment), administered by Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, is a series of standardized science, mathematics, and reading comprehension tests. It is taken once every three years by half a million 15-year-olds in 65 countries.
A New York Times article, “Top Test Scores From Shanghai Stun Educators,” reports that although American officials and European test administrators regard the Shanghai scores as not representative of the whole of China, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan considers the event a reality check for American education. “The United States came 23rd or 24th in most subjects,” said Duncan, “We can quibble, or we can face the brutal fact that we are being out-educated.”
“[Experts] said the stellar academic performance of students in Shanghai was noteworthy, and another sign of China’s rapid modernization.” The test results were also attributed to a general difference in education culture, which includes a “greater emphasis on teacher training and more time spent on studying rather than extracurricular activities like sports” (“Top Test Scores”). Teaching is also reported to be a more valued profession in China.
Finland, the other high-ranking PISA participant, is being examined for its very different—though similarly successful—education system. Award winning education blogger Diane Ravitch of Education Week’s “Bridging Differences” writes about what “these two very different systems have in common.” “[Shanghai and Finland] place their bets on expert, experienced teachers and on careful training of their new teachers,” writes Ravtich, “They rely on well-planned, consistent support of teachers to improve their schools continuously.”
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, is among a throng of voices quoted in Education Week article, “What People Are Saying About the PISA Results.” “What the PISA results tell us,” says Weingarten, “is that if you don't make smart investments in teachers, respect them or involve them in decision making, as the top-performing countries do, students pay a price.”
As the results of PISA continue to be examined, it remains to be seen how the tests will influence U.S. education and how they will function in future international academic competition.
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