More Test Results, More Self-Flagellation. Let’s DO Something About It Instead

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New international test scores were released this week, and their meaning is in the eye of the interpreter, writes Valerie Strauss on the Washington Post website. Here are some headlines from different news sites with some different takes on the results:

Education Week: “U.S. Math, Science Achievement Exceeds World Average”

The Washington Post: “U.S. students continue to trail Asian students in math, reading, science”

Huffington Post: “International Tests Show East Asian Students Outperform World As U.S. Holds Steady”

The Boston Globe: “Mass. pupils near the top in math and science; State 8th graders lead peers in most nations; a boost for prospects in world marketplace”

The Wall Street Journal: “Competitors Still Beat U.S. in Tests”

Orlando Sentinel: “Florida students wow the world with ‘outstanding’ reading-test results”

Bloomberg Businessweek: “‘Breathtaking’ Math, Science Gap: U.S. Kids vs. Asians”

Strauss comments: “These all refer to the release today of data from the 2011 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, known as PIRLS, and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, referred to as TIMSS. The headlines above tell you the obvious story, though hardly the whole story.

Whenever international test scores come out and the United States isn’t on or anywhere near the top, there is a hue and cry about what the results mean for the future of the country, and it isn’t ever good. These fears always ignore the fact that the United States has never been near the top, that different countries test different populations of students, and that some populations of American students do as well as anybody in the world.

Now here’s the headline, based on the new TIMSS and PIRLS data, you didn’t see:
‘U.S. low-poverty schools do much better than high-poverty schools in international tests.’

In fact, that is true on all standardized tests. And that continues to be the real story in U.S. education, not how American students’ scores stack up against Singapore or the South Koreans.” (Read more here.)

There does seem to be something almost ritualistic about the way we beat ourselves up every time international test results are released. It’s as if, by feeling disappointed and let down for a little while, we release ourselves from the requirement that we actually do anything about it.

Here’s what I think we should do about it: Apply what we know about human learning to the way we teach children at home and at school. I’ll have more to say about this in my Time.com column this coming week, so stay tuned.

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