It’s no secret that America’s test scores rank exceedingly low compared to those of other international countries. Aside from the media’s interpretation, as well as known stereotypes concerning the structure of the American school system, it’s difficult to not question the standards and reevaluate the concepts valued within American education.
As previously stated, while Americans tend to visualize themselves as superior in every cultural and economic aspect, the statistics don’t lie when they say the U.S. ranks 17th on an extensive list of international educational performances. While this isn’t necessarily the worst ranking, it’s certainly not impressive either — especially considering we as a country have the aptitude and resources to excel in these areas.
As easy as it is to blame institutions, curriculums, and teachers, the students play a key role in investing time to study and master the material. (Both concepts that would require dedication and motivation). However, the answers to solving America’s lack of performance in these ares, isn’t just subjective to a few broad topics, but rather lies within the nations approach toward standardized testing.
America prides itself in its standardized testing system, while every U.S. teenager dreads it as the SAT — which stands for Scholastic Aptitude Test (in my mind it stands for the Super Annoying Test). While most may already know this, the SAT focuses upon two main subjects which involve reading comprehension and mathematics.
While the test is meant to assess a students individual ability to problem solve and comprehend concepts, the national average score is approximately 1068 out of 1600, which is far below outstanding. If average American kids are scoring at or below the national average on this exam annually, that translates one of three things: that kids are ill prepared for the exam, they aren’t taking it seriously, or my absolute favorite reason — the test sucks.
Despite being revamped various times throughout the years, the test is obviously not as effective as it proclaims to be. While there’s obvious alternatives to the SAT such as the ACT, U.S. kids continue scoring below national averages, overall reflecting poorly upon the U.S. as a whole. While it’s unlikely for these tests to outright disappear, it’s not just the SAT that Americans are ranked low internationally, but the Programme for International Student Assessment as well, which is an exam that measures reading ability, math, and scientific literacy.
According to a study conducted by the Pew research Center, “The most recent PISA results, from 2015, placed the U.S. an unimpressive 38th out of 71 countries in math and 24th in science. Among the 35 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which sponsors the PISA initiative, the U.S. ranked 30th in math and 19th in science.”
While these statistics may fare insignificant to some, they communicate something far more essential being that despite America’s best efforts, we continue to fall behind other developing countries in math and science, as seen through these standardized and cross national exams.
These statistics should motivate the U.S. to reassess our educational focuses, and consider revising some existing curriculums.
For example, the PISA is an exam that focuses upon assessing a student’s ability to think, and according to The New York Times, “…does not assess what teenagers have memorized, but instead asks them to solve problems they haven’t seen before, to identify patterns that are not obvious, and to make compelling written arguments. It tests the skills, in other words, that machines have not yet mastered.”
Despite being an international exam, American curriculums could take a hint from the concepts represented in the PISA, and refrain from relying solely upon route memorization in education, and redirect that focus upon individual progress and concrete knowledge and comprehension.
If the following techniques were incorporated into American curriculums, there’s no doubt that test scores would gradually improve, and would reflect more upon an individuals ability to problem solve and rely upon critical thinking
However, it doesn’t necessarily stop with officials exams, but these techniques should also be incorporated into everyday testing curriculums in schools throughout the U.S. Finland, who ranks #1 in academics internationally, has adapted various strategies that explain their high performance.
However, the most outstanding explanation lies within their means of how they test their students. In the U.S., our means of testing are confined within multiple choice exams that list possible answers to the given question. An approach that not only belittles the learning experience, and enables techniques such as cheating, cramming, and route memorization, is repeatedly utilized throughout learning institutions throughout the U.S.
In Finland however, schools denounce this idea and rather assess students of all ages in a free response format, requiring students to provide their own answers — which not only encourages the true mastery of the subject, but also enables and stimulates creative thinking, outside the confines of given explanations or responses as done so in the US.
While ideas such as these may counter the current educational policies, it’s definitely something to consider if we as a country want to see an increase in test scores and education.