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PISA Collaboration Results Are Debatable

For the first time, the Program for International Student Assessment tested 15-year-olds in more than 50 countries and regions on their collaborative problem-solving skills ("U.S. ranks No. 13 in new collaborative problem-solving test," Hechinger Report, Nov. 27).  But I question if valid inferences can be drawn from the results.

No matter how carefully designed a standardized test is, it is no substitute for unobtrusive observations.  The operative word is "unobtrusive" because I maintain that is the best way of obtaining authentic results.  When students know they are being tested, they are likely to behave differently from the way they would otherwise. The value of an observer assuming an "incognito role" is not fully appreciated (Unobtrusive Measures: Nonreactive Research in the Social Sciences, Rand McNally, 1969). 

Collaborative skills are increasingly important in a global economy.  The ability to work smoothly and productively with others who likely come from different racial and ethnic backgrounds is a coveted skill.  It's a mistake to assume that academic skills will automatically lead to social skills.  Perhaps that's why the U.S., which has never ranked high on tests of international competition, has a long record of creativity.  As Singapore's former minister of education once famously observed, there is a test meritocracy and a talent meritocracy.  They may overlap, but one is no assurance of the other.

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