So I’ve spoken quite a bit in this space about how testing doesn’t lead to, or reveal, learning. I’ve argued that a test will not tell you what a student has learned, only what they’ve remembered. Recently I’ve also mentioned how the Chinese are turning their backs on standardization and testing because they are realizing that they can produce “grade-A” test takers, but that these same people are no good at “life”. “Ultimate Prep” – remember?
Since I don’t make this stuff up, really, here’s some interesting information.
In 2008 the National Science Foundation conducted research which was reported in their “Science and Engineering Indicators” which measures science literacy – i.e., one’s understanding of science and engineering. One of their questions asked “Is the center of the earth very hot?” 88% of Americans answered correctly (“yes”), while only 39% of Chinese said “yes”. One summary of the report, presented in the style of the Olympic games with medals awarded, showed the US at the top of the many countries involved, with 8 total medals, while China had 1 and India had 2.
This phenomenon of “high scores and low ability” is beginning to get some attention. Testing well is not worth very much, in the end. What matters is what you “know”, and what you know is what you understand. It is understanding that leads to thinking about a subject and to being able to be creative and innovative within it.
There is more support for this finding. The 2007 book Collateral Damage reveals how high-stakes testing destroys ingenuity and education. A survey of multinational corporations showed that Chinese workers lacked ability as well as commitment to and passion for their work. This held true even for engineers who had graduated from the best engineering schools.
The Chinese are reevaluating their schools because they are witnessing a growing creativity gap between their students and US students. Our system leaves much to be desired, but chasing the Asian model should not be part of our “fix”. (Will someone please tell the authorities – we need to repeal NCLB.)