Guest Column

December 22, 2013

Test scores may not tell the whole story

FI’ve been thinking a lot about PISA recently, and I don’t mean the Italian city in Tuscany.

I’m talking about the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). It’s the test given to 15-year old students in 64 countries every three years. PISA tests student proficiency in math, science and reading.

The scores from the most recent round of testing are in, and American students didn’t fare so well. According to the scoring, American students ranked below the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OCED) average in math and sciences. The United States placed 35th in a field of 64 countries. Compared to the 2003 scores, American 15-year-olds scored an average of 481 in math, down three points, and they scored an average of 498 in reading, down six points.

The good news was that the average score in science rose eight points to 497 compared to 2003. It was still below the international average.

The low scores have resulted in much hand wringing, gnashing of teeth and rending of garments among politicians, educators, media pundits and even a few parents.

Most of those concerned about America’s poor performance on the PISA exam believe there needs to be an impetus placed on improving science and math scores because future job growth will be in professions requiring those skills and not having workers skilled in those subjects will impair future economic growth.

Are the PISA scores really that accurate predictor of future economic growth?

I didn’t have a clue, so I did me some research.

I found a paper that analyzed the results of the First International Comparison Study (administered to 12-year-olds in 11 countries in 1964) as they compared to national economic success in the first decade of the 21st Century. In the 1964 test, American students came in second to last, barely beating out Sweden.

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