By Yong Zhao @ WAToday
Internationally acclaimed University of Oregon professor Yong Zhao published this interesting op-ed piece in Western Australia, criticizing both Australia and the United States for being too consumed with PISA results and rankings. He makes a quick case that these international tests are not very valuable in forecasting much of anything.
International tests are not worth much in predicting a nation’s economic prosperity, productivity, quality of life, democracy, and creativity. Keith Baker, a former researcher at the US National Centre for Education Statistics, uncovered this in an analysis of the relationship between the outcomes of the first international mathematics study, held in the 1960s, and the conditions of the participating countries 40 years later.
However, personality traits and other non-cognitive skills have been shown to have strong relations to earnings, productivity, and employability. Self-esteem or confidence in childhood has a great impact on earnings in adulthood. The top five most valued skills by employers are communication skills, motivation/initiative, teamwork skills, leadership skills, and academic achievement; test scores come last.
But these skills are not measured by typical tests; neither are creativity and entrepreneurship.
Yet that will not stop pundits, politicians, and policymakers from seizing upon the newly updated rankings next week to justify dire predictions. On some level, it wouldn’t make a difference if the United States climbed in the rankings or not. For edreformy advocates, unless the United States is number one across the board, there is something seriously wrong with the system, and they no doubt have the cure.
Interestingly, Zhao also sets up the major premise of his argument with what can only be considered a calculated concession. For Zhao, “American education is not in decline – it has been horrible for a long time,” but that hasn’t ruined the nation. While I understand how he could use a statement like this to advance his argument, especially on a foreign new site, I thin that is nearly as simplistic a judgement as the ones made by people that take PISA seriously.
There is no question that the American education system has plenty of room for improvement, especially the way schools are funded and serve the poor and underprivileged. However, it seems pretty clear that Zhao is using No Child Left Behind as the point of departure for decline.
Citing creativity, in particular, Zhao warns that America may very well be losing its greatest economic engine. Implicit is the one-size-fits-all Common Core, centralization efforts by the United States Department of Education, and obsession with standardized testing. Difficult to quantify and measure, he suggests that creativity is an essential part of what truly matters most in life.
On that score, I am in full support. Moreover, Professor Zhao wisely warns that test scores, no matter what the exam, not only have less value than many might think, faith in them is more likely to result in damage for the individual and their nation.