I agree with the article in which scientists doubt the validity of the international math and science tests alone in determining the effectiveness of schools. Test questions are usually highly contrived and have very little real problem-solving value.
For instance, one of the questions on the exam asked that given a box's dimensions, what length of ribbon is needed to tie it up. Well, even though less than half the local high school kids could answer the questions "correctly," I'd bet almost all of them, if given a box and a spool of ribbon, could measure the amount of rib-bon needed to tie it and cut off just the right amount.If the United States wants to compete with other countries at test-taking skills, then we should take our cues from the successful competition. After junior high, make all the students take a test. Only allow students who scored better than the average score to go to high school.
The other students will become our foundation of laborers - you know, the people who flip burgers and screw the tops on tubes of toothpaste in the factories. Then at the end of high school, provide another test. This time, allow only the top 30 percent or so to go on to college. The others can attend trade school to learn all there is about plumbing, auto mechanics or supervising toothpaste factories.
The benefits of this system are noticeable. The costs of education can be kept at a minimum. We don't need as many schools. We don't need to pay for teachers for all our children, only the good ones. We have a strong base of the population prepared for blue-collar work. Students are clearly motivated (pronounced "compelled") to study for exams; so they are naturals for the international tests.
What is missing is the ability to take scholastic knowledge and apply it to the real world. When information is studied for the sole purpose of passing a test, the usefulness of the knowledge is lost, and it is forgotten when the test is passed. (Just ask any student about cramming.) But that's the choice many countries make when designing their school systems. Let's not make this same choice. Let's be innovators in education, like we have been in other fields.
Russel O. Carlson