A look at global STEM powerhouses shows that high-stakes testing doesn’t mean successful students

testing-obsessionWhenever vitally important goals hang in the balance, people want proof that progress is being made toward achieving those goals. It’s human nature—whether those objectives are building a skyscraper, eliminating disease or, perhaps most notably, educating our children.

Equitable, effective and high-quality public education is an essential goal not just here in the U.S., but in virtually every global society. The question is, is standardized testing a fair measure of progress? And what do we sacrifice in the pursuit of such testing?

The answers to those questions may lie in the situation now affecting many Asian nations. Children in that region are outperforming their global peers, and test scores are high. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s most recent PISA study, the Chinese—specifically children in Shanghai and Hong Kong—rank the highest in mathematics proficiency, a key measure of academic success. The United States, by contrast, ranks 36 out of the 65 countries and economic areas measured.

One would think that China, India, and South Korea in particular—countries known to hold schools, teachers and students accountable for performance through rigorous and repeated testing—have the formula all figured out. But let’s look at what’s currently happening in these high-achieving nations.

Next page: What students can expect after the tests end