Keep It Up America: We're Doing Something Right!

There seems to be a growing concern for improving America's education system more than ever nowadays. New policies such as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have been implemented in public education schools to increase America's standardized test scores in reading, math and science.

According to results of standardized testing, the United States is currently underachieving in education when compared to other developed countries around the world. Asian countries such as South Korea, Japan and China all outrank the United States in reading, math and science by a long-shot.

However, many of these countries are starting to question the significance of their scores and are beginning to rethink their educational beliefs.

According to the OECD, PISA 2009 Database, The United States ranks 14th in Reading, 17th in Science and 25th in Math, out of 34 OECD countries. South Korea ranks 1st in Reading, 1st in Math and 3rd in Science, thereby leading the world in education, supposedly. [1]

From a distance, South Korea's results look enviable. Its students consistently outperform their counterparts in almost every other country in reading and math. [2]  But cramming is deeply embedded in Asia, where top grades - and often nothing else - have long been prized as essential for professional success. [2]  Studying and cramming is getting so bad in South Korea that government employees gather at the office to prepare for late-night patrols. The mission is as simple as it is counter-intuitive: to find children who are studying after 10 p.m. and stop them. [2] In addition, Chinese families have been hiring test-prep tutors since the 7th century. Modern-day South Korea has taken this competition to new extremes.  In 2010, 74% of all students engaged in some kind of private after-school instruction. [2]

What I find interesting is how well the United States ranks in the categories of technology and innovation, which is often left out of the news and the media.  The United States currently ranks 3rd in Global Technology, and ranks 1st in Innovation; whereas, the Republic of Korea ranks 8th in Global Technology and does not even rank in Innovation. [3]  Lastly, in the category of the Overall Global Creativity Index, the United States ranks 2nd, whereas the Republic of Korea ranks 27th. [3]

My argument is that Korea may lead the world in standardized test scores, but the United States is leading the world in productivity.

What I find ironic, is that the countries that perform the best on standardized tests in reading, math, and science, do not necessarily perform the best on creativity and innovation tests.  Countries such as South Korea, are now starting to realize that their high test scores are not a good assessment of measuring student success outside of high school. "Across Asia, reformers are pushing to make schools more American.  For example, in China, universities have begun fashioning new entry tests to target students with talents beyond book learning.  And Taiwanese officials recently announced that kids will no longer have to take high-stress exams to get into high school.  If South Korea, the apogee of extreme education, gets its reforms right, it could be a model for other societies." [2]

The fact that a lot of Asian countries are undergoing their own education reform to become more American, should send a message to our policy makers!  If the countries with the highest rankings are trying reduce the pressure of achieving high test scores, shouldn't we be doing the same?  It makes no sense for America to push and push for high test scores, when the countries with the highest test scores are beginning to realize that their educational priorities need to be reevaluated.

If we can learn anything from this information, its that we shouldn't use just one assessment to measure the success of anything, let alone education.  Best-practice teaching tells us that students need to be measured by multiple, different types of assessments. For example, some students might perform better on standardized tests; whereas, others might perform better on project-based assessments.

What if the success of football teams was measured only by their total yardage? Would their rank justify their overall record of wins to losses?  Probably not.  Just because a football team has the highest rank in total yardage, does not mean that they are the best team in the league.  This is analogous to standardized test scores because the countries that have the highest test scores, are not necessarily the most successful and productive countries, overall.  Therefore, the United States should stop measuring the success of its education only on the scores of standardized tests.  We should account for several types of assessments to fully evaluate the success of our education.

In closing, if students are still going to be forced to have their potential success measured by standardized tests, then I would argue that the best method of assessment should NOT measure what students know; rather, it should measure what they can do with what they know!  Because the last time I checked, America is still sitting at the top of the GDP chart! [4]

For more information on the differences between American Education and Japanese Education, visit my blog post: My Japanese Exchange Program Experience

  2. Teacher, Leave Those Kids Alone, Amanda Ripley/Seoul, Time Magazine, December 5, 2011
  3. Creativity and Prosperity: The Global Creativity Index, The Martin Prosperity Institute, January 2011:
  4. World Bank Statistics: