Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Leaning Tower of Adequate

Last week the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released the results of its Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). The report compares test results for school systems in 65 countries in reading, mathematics, and science. No matter how you slice the numbers, the United States comes up in the middle of the pack in all three areas...not great...not horrible.  There have been ever so slight improvements from previous PISAs, but again those have been modest at best.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan fit the results into his ongoing call for major reform. In his official statement he writes, "Today’s PISA results show that America needs to urgently accelerate student learning to remain competitive in the global economy of the 21st century." The numbers and rankings and relative position of US schools given a "flat" require further study and interpretation. Google "PISA results" and you will see that the news and blogosphere are already abuzz with both.

For now, my only comment is that I think these are exactly the results to be expected in a school system that defines success as making "Adequate Yearly Progress."  Being average is "adequate." Making slight improvements every three years (the term of PISA's study) is "adequate."  Adequate means not great and not horrible and because it is the principle metric of No Child Left Behind, it is what every school is striving towards. All PISA tells us is that we are getting exactly what we are asking for.

When this topic comes up it is hard not to go into soap box mode.  Really? Adequate Yearly Progress? This is the standard of success in the United States of America? We want to be adequate? Not outstanding? Not Exceptional Yearly Progress? And I don't mean in relationship to other countries. I mean in relationship to yourself, the improvement/progress each school makes from year to year. I think words matter. And I think that if and when we reauthorize NCLB we hope, among other things, to improve on our PISA results from this year, we ought to re-imagine what we choose to call success.

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