Another perspective on the recent international PISA scores


by David Safier

Who said this?

"The biggest criticism is that China's education has sacrificed everything else for test scores, such as life skills, character building, mental health, and physical health."

It wasn't some anti-test radical educator in the U.S. The speaker was Xiong Bingqi, a Shanghai-based scholar on education. Shanghai's students got the highest scores in the world on the recent international PISA test. Xiong also said,

"This should not be considered a pride for us, because overall it still measures one's test-taking ability. You can have the best answer for a theoretical model, but can you build a factory on a test paper?"

Shanghai, it should be noted, spends four times more per student than the national average in China.

Who said Asian countries are "examination hell" countries, where the push to teach to the test "is becoming worse and worse"? That was Koji Kato, a professor emeritus of education at Tokyo's Sophia University. Here's the quote:

"Asian countries do better than European and American schools because we are 'examination hell' countries," said Koji Kato, a professor emeritus of education at Tokyo's Sophia University. "There is more pressure to teach to the test. In my experience in working with teachers the situation is becoming worse and worse."

Ironically, the U.S. has joined the race to become an "examination hell" country while many Asian nations are trying to scale back on their test-driven curricula. In some affluent families in Asia, fathers remain at home to support their wives and children who have moved to the U.S. and Australia to escape the educational pressure cooker and get a more well rounded school experience.

This isn't to minimize the defiencies in U.S. education — though many of them can be traced to our deplorable lack of health, economic and social services for people living in poverty. It's to say the solution isn't more teaching to high stakes tests. That may raise our international scores, though the truth is, our PISA scores have remained flat during the decade our schools have been teaching to NCLB tests. But there is no indication a standardized-test-based school culture will help create more innovative entrepreneurs or skilled workers, nor will it make our children better citizens.


  1. Well said David. We are hurling down a one-way track to disaster with our education policy. We know what needs to be done and yet don’t have the political will to do it. First, we need to ensure all children start school ready to learn. This means we must deal with the effects of poverty on a child’s health and development. Two, we must ensure our teachers are properly educated and then value, respect, and empower them commensurate with their importance to the future of our nation. Three, we must ensure our public education system is properly funded and supported.

    None of this is rocket science, yet neither is it easy to do. It is much easier for politicians to hide the truth and devise work-arounds that make us believe they are addressing the problem. We can’t believe them and must hold them accountable before it is too late!

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