By Jennifer Rassmusen - Owner of Challenge Island, where engineering meets imagination.
Multiple times every year, the newspapers, magazines, and media outlets banner headlines that United States public school students are lagging other countries in their learning. These declarations further fan the fires that teachers and the US education system are failing.
As a high school teacher, I become increasingly frustrated that most Americans will not look beyond the headline. Most will blithely accept that these facts are true. These facts are misleading and often incorrect. We (teachers collectively) shout our frustration out into the ether every time a news organization repeats how low United States schools are scoring compared to other schools globally.
Why do these erroneous conclusions frustrate US teachers?
How do they undermine US teachers?
What are the major flaws with using the data from the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress), PISA (Programme of International Student Assessment), and TMISS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study?
We teachers become frustrated because we know that the students tested in the US and other countries are incongruent. Many in the public – private individuals and government individuals – don’t understand the background for the data. US teachers want the differences recognized and acknowledged.
Here is a small list of exceptions that these data collection tests, the writers of articles about these data collection tests, and governmental decisions brought about from these data collection tests get wrong. Perhaps some will see that all data is not created equal.
1. Many countries globally do not teach students with either physical or mental disabilities (special education students – see Singapore and Estonia for example) in the same schools as averagely-abled students. The US does. This means that these students are in our testing data and in other countries these data points are absent.
2. Many countries’ immigrant populations or non-native language speaking student populations are quite small. In the US, certain districts have high immigrant or ELL populations. If students don’t understand the language or culture of the test, will they test well? No, they will not. Immigrant and ELL populations are in the US testing data and in other countries these data points are so small they make no or minor statistical impact.
3. Many countries track their students between the ages of 12 and 13. What does this mean? It means that students who aren’t academically ready to pursue high school toward college or are ready to pursue an apprenticeship for a trade don’t move on to secondary schools where PISA or TMISS tests are given. Why is this important? In the US, every student moves toward high school whether academically college or career minded. All these students are tested. However only those who moved on toward academic high schools in other countries are tested. Therefore, it is an all students versus some students test pool.
Parents, policy makers, and news media need to understand that looking at the data collected by these tests is essentially comparing apples to oranges. Parents, policy makers, and news media need to stop blaming US teachers because US schools choose to educate everyone – not just the ones who can tick all the correct boxes demographically.