What the Media Didn’t Tell You About Latest International Tests

Diane Ravitch’s Blog, 12/22/12

Bob Somerby taught for many years in the Baltimore public schools. His blog The Daily Howler offers a fearless critique of media coverage of critical events.

His post on the latest international assessments (TIMSS) and the media’s decision tiresome putdown of American students is a classic.

He points out that on the math portions of the TIMSS tests, US students performed about the same as their peers in Finland. On the eighth grade TIMSS math tests, American students in several states outperformed Finland.

This should have been major news, in light of the constant ballyhoo about how poorly U.S. students have been doing for years on international tests. Decrying American student performance is the reformers’ trump card.

But instead of pointing to the real news, most papers told the same old story, which they might as well have written 20 years ago: “US Lags…”

At least a few thoughtful testing experts (Yong Zhao, Pasi Sahlberg, Keith Baker) recognize that the international horse race is nonsensical.

Once a nation reaches a certain level of development, the scores don’t tell you much about the national system or about the future of the economy.

Not everyone can be first. And it really doesn’t matter who is first.

Perhaps we should look at other metrics as more important, for example, what proportion of children are healthy? What proportion live in poverty? What proportion have access to high-quality preschool?


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