Tuesday, May 13, 2014

US students and Problem Solving

The headline read: "US Students Score Above Average on New Problem Solving Test".   Well that certainly sounded very good.   However, it didn't take very long to realize that "above average" was really not so hot.  The test is the Program for International Student Assessment or PISA.   It has sub tests for reading, math and science.  In the U.S. 1,273 15 year old students were tested in 162 schools.  The opening report states that in modern life all success is based on problem solving.  One could hardly disagree with that.
The mean score for the test for 2012 is 500.  The U.S. mean was 508.   We were outscored by ten countries that participated in the assessment; including Singapore, Korea, Japan, Canada, the United Kingdom, Estonia, France, Italy and Germany.  So while our scores were above average, we were hardly stellar among the most advanced countries.   We did beat out Austria, Ireland and Sweden but not by a great deal.
So why is that.  First of all the countries with the highest scores are hardly known for the advancement of creativity.  American students did do much better on tasks that required they scout out some information before they could respond to the problem's solution as opposed to other tasks where all the information was given but students had to use the given information to solve the problem.
There was some good news in the report.  In the US, girls scores equaled those of boys, even though the highest scores went to boys.  Another interesting result that occurred with most countries was that socio-economic status did not differentiate high and low scores to the extent that it did with academic areas.
All of this information should inform how we teach students and measure what they have learned.  Unfortunately I doubt that it will.  We will go on measuring facts and knowledge.   This test in the problem solving area is interactive and requires students to use information to solve problems, not simply repeat what they have been told.  To my mind this test measures the fruits of learning.

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