Historically, the performance of U.S. students on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) has been mediocre. In 2011, 18 states took the test as independent entities, comparing the performance of students in their states with countries around the world. Many individual states did very well in the international comparisons. (New York did not participate.) In particular, North Carolina's results prompted U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to state: "North Carolina's students are doing as well as, or better than, their peers in most high-performing nations in math, and are even ahead of their counterparts in Finland," one of the highest performing nations on Earth.
So, I suspect the citizens of North Carolina were confused to read this month's headline, "New N.C. exams paint bleak picture of skills in state" regarding the performance on the first rendition of Common Core tests. The story said that "fewer than half the students in North Carolina have the reading and math skills they need to be on track for college and skilled jobs, based on results of new state exams."
New York had a similar "bleak picture." Even in Pittsford, the top-ranked school district in upstate New York, where they consistently have close to a 100 percent graduation rate and most kids going to college, 30 to 40 percent of students fell below proficiency on the Common Core tests. And Pittsford had the best results in the area.
For years we've been told that American kids lag behind their international peers on all sorts of educational measures, and that we as a nation need to do something different. The answer: new standards, rigorous tests and teacher evaluations based on test scores - all part of our national strategy to "race to the top" of the global economy.
I worry, what if we are wrong? What if the standards or the tests that measure them are flawed? Based on TIMSS results, North Carolina (along with other states) was doing well against the rest of the world. Now, however, if the standard and test makers are right, N.C. has a lot of work to do. And, apparently, so does Finland.
This issue is too complex for a short essay, but one thing is clear. At least in North Carolina, there are kids who were "doing as well as, or better than, their peers in most high-performing nations" who are now "lacking the skills necessary to be on track for college and skilled jobs." ------------------------------- Uebbing is a professor at the University of Rochester's Warner School of Education ***************************************** -- Jerry P. Becker Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction Southern Illinois University 625 Wham Drive Mail Code 4610 Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O] (618) 457-8903 [H] Fax: (618) 453-4244 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org