Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Sounding Off Again -- Man, Am I Opinionated or What?!

Reading the LAST chapter in my textbook last night, I ran across this little ditty...

"In international studies of mathematics and science achievement, young people from Hong Kong, Japan, ,Korea, and Taiwan have consistently been among the top performers, whereas Americans have scored no better than at the mean and often below it (Lapoint, Askew, & Mead, 1992; Lapoint, Mead, & Askew, 1992). The most recent assessment revealed a sharp decline in performance with increasing grade. In math, fourth graders in the United States were comparable to those in many other countries; in science, they were near the top. By twelfth grade, U.S. math and science knowledge was near the bottom in relation to the other 20 participating nations (U.S. Department of Education, 1998). Preliminary findings of a retest suggest that math and science performance of U.S. secondary school students sremains mediocre on an international scale (U.S. Department of Education, 2001b)." (Child Development, 6th Edition, Berk, 2002, pp. 636-7).
Okay, so little known fact... The Japanese, at least, and possibly all these other Asian countries as well, take an entrance exam when in fifth-grade for middle school and another in eighth grade for high school. The best and brightest move on. If you are a bright fifth-grader, you go to a better middle school. If you do not pass either of the tests well enough, you are on your own. Employment is the only option.

I had an investigator who was an eighth-grader. I remember her coming to a discussion at one point in our teaching, very distraught because she hadn't passed the high school placement test. She had to start looking for a job.

Yes, American fourth graders scored the same os these other nations because at that point, all Asian children are entitled to an education. It is after that point that the less bright are weeded out of their test scores. So, in the first paragraph when it spoke about American kids scoring "no better than at the mean and often below it," we need to take into account that the "mean" we are competing against is the average of the best they have to offer. We take for granted the fact that in the United States, we are allowed and receive the blessings of free education. EVERYONE is granted that. In other nations, these things are not the norm. Education must be earned.

So, I ask you, is it fair to compare and try to compete against this? I don't think the U.S. Department of Education has considered this fact. If they have, they will continue to be sorely disappointed.


vaxhacker said...

And one thing I noticed in Taiwan (and I assume this is common elsewhere), is that those tests are extremely stressful. There's so much riding on the outcome of the exams for one so young, they have a huge incentive to study their little brains out, if they survive the process of getting to the test.

The unfortunate side of that is, predictably, this process tends to produce kids who are very good at passing tests as their primary skill.

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