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How Your School Compares Internationally

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As more and more schools implement the Common Core Standards, the hope is that we will see an increase in the overall achievement of American students. The fact that the standards are internationally benchmarked prompts the belief that they will eventually make our kids more competitive on a global level.

Currently there are assessments that provide international comparisons of educational results by country. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) provides these assessments and other statistical information about countries. For example, the statistical profile of the United States includes a range of indicators on the economy, education, energy, environment, foreign aid, health, information and communication, labor, migration, research and development, trade and society.

The OECD educational assessment, the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), has been administered to participating countries for the last ten years and provides a wealth of information. PISA is an international assessment that measures 15-year-old students' reading, mathematics and science literacy. PISA also includes measures of general or cross-curricular competencies, such as problem solving. PISA emphasizes functional skills that students have acquired as they near the end of compulsory schooling.

Although these results compare countries to each other, they do not show how individual schools and students perform compared to those in other countries. With the Common Core Standards now being put in place across the United States it would be helpful to know how individual schools perform on an international basis. Since the standards are internationally benchmarked, shouldn't student and school performance also be internationally benchmarked? Having these benchmarks available at the school level would give teachers information to help them help students continue to improve.

Currently we can statistically link the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results to PISA and other international assessments, such as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study and The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, TIMSS and PIRLS, respectively. As part of Florida's Race to the Top project, the state is participating in PISA to obtain information that provides international comparisons of student achievement. We can get state to international comparisons through these links but we haven't had a tool to study local schools. OCED is now piloting a school -based student assessment geared for use by schools and networks of schools to support research, benchmarking and school improvement efforts. It provides descriptive information and analyses on the skills and creative application of knowledge of 15-year-old students in reading, mathematics and science comparable to existing PISA scales.

Am I advocating adding another test? Absolutely not. I am suggesting that the OCED test has the potential to replace other tests now being administered in our high schools to hold us accountable on the international comparisons. As far as other tests go, teachers should have flexibility in the use of formative assessments to measure progress along the way.

The National Association of Secondary School Principals has this to say about international assessments:

NASSP believes that:

The value of large-scale assessments is in the information they produce to help schools improve the performance of their most challenged students and to close the achievement gap within U.S. schools.

The United States should take steps to prepare its students to become effective and active citizens of the world. National standards and assessments, which NASSP has supported in a position statement on that topic, are a key step in that direction.

Education is the most reliable and most important investment our nation can make in its own future by preparing students to live in a global world.

NASSP Recommendations

School leaders should:

Lead efforts to internationalize their schools by offering foreign languages; participating in international exchanges; and using technology to give students and faculty members access to programs, discussions, and conferences with their peers overseas.

Lead conversations with their faculties and communities about international tests, such as PISA and TIMSS, and the implications of test results for their own instructional practices.

Advocate for resources to address the needs of low-performing students and to help close funding inequities.

Participate in discussions with school leaders in other countries to address common topics, such as how to close the achievement gap. Exchange ideas with educators who are looking at U.S. schools as models that they want to emulate.

Policymakers should:

Cease to use international comparisons as an indictment of public education but rather work with educators to evaluate and use such results to further inform school reform initiatives.

Provide educators with the resources, including relevant professional development, necessary to internationalize their schools and become participants in a global community of practitioners. A look at what successful countries do could inform this effort.

Address financial and social inequities that affect student performance on international tests.

Support the development of national academic standards and assessments and provide schools with effective resources to improve students' performance on such tests. Resources should include funding, research on best practices, and continuous professional development.

Examine international tests results critically to determine both their value and their limitations in informing policy.

Ensure that practitioners have a voice when international tests that measure students' performance are developed and interpreted.

Also, there are two tests currently being developed to measure college and career readiness and to compare states. I am hopeful that we will also be able to see international comparisons from these once they are in place. The two tests are The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and  Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SMARTER). While the two groups will pursue different ways to assess what students have learned, they will develop tests based on the same Common Core standards.

As we continue to support the implementation of the internationally benchmarked Common Core Standards, I believe we need to have an assessment that sets the bar that allows us to see how American students are competing at the international level.

What do you think about replacing assessments in your high schools with a test like PISA? Do you know how your high school students are performing compared to their international counterparts? Let's advocate to not only implement a curriculum with higher standards, let's find out how our kids are doing compared to their international peers.

Follow Stu Silberman on Twitter:  https://twitter.com/stusilbermanfc 

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