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What's The Best Use Of International Data?

My colleague David Hoff has a good read about the argument, made most recently by the Alliance for Excellent Education, that the United States should more actively participate in international testing and data collection. Specifically, the Alliance says the United States should increase its participation in the research conducted by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which runs the PISA test. The Alliance also faults U.S. officials for not taking part in another, advanced study for another international test, the TIMSS.

American students already take part in the PISA, but our country could benefit much more if individual cities and states took part, according to the Alliance. In other countries, local jurisdictions do participate, and the data that's produced shapes policy and drives improvement, the organization argues in a report on the subject. Mark Schneider, of the American Institutes for Research, offers several words of caution, questioning whether the data the OECD produces is of sufficient quality to influence U.S. decision-making. Schneider is the former commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics.

In the story, Andreas Schleicher, a top OECD education official, noted that his organization's public reports have had a major impact on school policy in foreign countries. I know that I've heard scholars talk about how low PISA scores in Germany were a "watershed" moment for the country, prompting a re-examination of the education system there.

Would the United States benefit from more active participation in the OECD data collection and reporting? It's an interesting argument. Few factors, in my view, have had as great an impact on shaping school policy discussions on "STEM" topics (the area I cover at Ed Week) than Americans' middling scores on international tests, such as the PISA and TIMSS. At times, policymakers seem far more fixated on international tests than they do about American students' marks on the primary domestic exam, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP. The media, and policymakers, to this point, have largely focused in broad strokes on the differences in raw test scores between top-performing nations and the United States. How much would the United States benefit from the collection and reporting of a more detailed array of data through the OECD, or another entity? What would the OECD contribute that is not being produced already?

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