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How PISA testing may be ruining education

Published: Wednesday, May 21 2014 4:11 p.m. MDT

In this January 2013 photo, preparatory students sit for National Center Test for University Admissions at the University of Tokyo. Students from Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea were among the highest-ranking groups in math, science and reading in test results released Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013 by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) coordinated by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The group tests students worldwide every three years.

Kyodo News, Associated Press

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Academics worldwide are asking for the end of global standardized testing.

As Program of International Student Assessment prepares its 2015 assessment tests, academics ask PISA to change its tests or to not go forward with next year’s testing.

PISA evaluates a nation’s education system through administering standardized testing. The test is given to 15-year-olds worldwide in over 50 countries. These tests are used to compare the education systems of the nations involved, and these comparisons have proven controversial over the years.

“U.S. students historically score at best average on international exams, including PISA,” Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post said. “Every time new results are released, we hear cries that this is proof of the decline of American public education — even though, as already noted but is worth repeating — Americans have never been at the top of international exams, even when public education wasn’t being questioned.”

The critics of PISA are not as worried about the ranking of their nations as they are about what the nature of the tests are doing to global education.

“We are frankly concerned about the negative consequences of the [PISA] rankings,” academics and school activists wrote in a letter to PISA president Andreas Schleicher.

The letter outlines seven major problems with the nature of PISA’s tests. They cite everything from pitting nation against nation to restricting the arts as their reasons. But these critics are not alone in their criticism. Concern over the validity of standardized testing has long been in the conversation about academic performance.

According to these particular cynics, PISA is not only miscalculating reading, science and math scores, it is undercutting education efforts worldwide.

“Pisa, with its three-year assessment cycle, has caused a shift of attention to short-term fixes designed to help a country quickly climb the rankings, despite research showing that enduring changes in education practice take decades, not a few years,” the letter to Schleicher said.

The letter goes on to say that due to its narrow focus of measurable education, PISA takes attention away from, thus undermining the less measurable and immeasurable aspects of education: moral, physical, civic and artistic.

The open letter to Schleicher has obtained over 100 signatures from educators around the world. They say PISA has "assumed the power to shape education policy around the world," using "tests widely known to be imperfect."

One of the most passionate accusations against PISA is that it kills “the joy of learning.” PISA has been accused in the past of only focusing on math and science to produce a specific workforce.

“Because PISA is an organization of economic development it only focuses on what can make money,” Neil Boland, senior lecturer at AUT University in Auckland, said in reference to the contents of the letter.

The educators argued in the letter that obtaining gainful employ is only one of many goals behind public education. Their main focus is "to prepare students for participation in democratic self-government, moral action and a life of personal development, growth and wellbeing."

“Education is not about creating lucrative business deals,” Boland said. “Education is about preserving humanity.”

EMAIL: nshepard@deseretnews.com TWITTER: @NicoleEShepard

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