International Comparisons are Never Easy

October 24th, 2014

Category: Postsecondary Success

Earlier this month in The News Journal, a position was shared on the validity of comparing U.S. student performance with that of other countries. The debate centered on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), and Shanghai’s top performance on that test vs. the United States’ mediocre performance.

Andreas Scheicher is the Deputy Director for Education and Skills, and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD). The OECD is the organization that oversees the PISA. Schleicher is also a member of Rodel’s International Advisory Group.

There have been several claims in the past that high-performing countries on PISA perform well due to their lack of diversity, lack of poverty, or selectivity of students taking the exam (as is the critique for Shanghai’s results). Schleicher has responded in a number of articles in the past and also addressed some of these critiques when he was here in Delaware this past spring.

The main point is that systems can change. We agree that progress IS possible – as we have seen across our state, our country, and from the rest of the world. Instead of critiquing these comparisons and this progress, we should learn from whomever can illustrate success with our students, whether they are in our backyard, or on the other side of the ocean.

As Schleicher states, “International comparisons are never easy and they are never perfect. But ignoring the success of East Asian systems will be a major mistake. The world has become indifferent to tradition and past reputations, unforgiving of frailty and ignorant of customs of practice. Success will go to those individuals, institutions, and countries which are swift to adapt, slow to complain and open to change.”

Paul Herdman



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