Times, Post toy with the PISA: Last Monday, the latest international test scores were released.
The next day, the New York Times and the Washington Post presented standardized news reports about the way American kids had performed on the high-profile standardized tests.
In the Times, as if by law, the headline—and the report itself—offered a highly familiar, standardized form of gloom and despair.
Dana Goldstein's report appeared on the Times' front page. Hard-copy headline included, her report started like this:
GOLDSTEIN (12/3/19): School Reforms Fail to Lift U.S. On Global TestIf we might briefly borrow from Joyce, gloom was general all over Goldstein's report. As has long been required by law!
The performance of American teenagers in reading and math has been stagnant since 2000, according to the latest results of a rigorous international exam, despite a decades-long effort to raise standards and help students compete with peers across the globe.
And the achievement gap in reading between high and low performers is widening. Although the top quarter of American students have improved their performance on the exam since 2012, the bottom 10th percentile lost ground, according to an analysis by the National Center for Education Statistics, a federal agency.
The disappointing results from the exam, the Program for International Student Assessment, were announced on Tuesday and follow those from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, an American test that recently showed that two-thirds of children were not proficient readers.
According to Goldstein's front-page report, school reforms had failed to lift American students. Also, the performance of American teens has been stagnant since 2000.
The achievement gap between high and low performers is widening. And not only that! These disappointing new results follow those from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (the Naep), which recently showed that two-thirds of American children are not proficient readers.
For the record, each of those statements can be defended as "technically accurate." We'd call the overall package grossly misleading, but the individual claims can be defended, sometimes just barely, as being technically accurate.
Can the same be said for the corresponding report in the Washington Post? On balance, we'd have to say no:
BALINGIT AND VAN DAM (12/3/19): U.S. teens behind global peers in reading, math, scienceWas the basic claim there true? Is it true that teenagers in the United States continue to lag behind their peers in East Asia and Europe in reading, math and science, according to the Pisa results?
Teenagers in the United States continue to lag behind their peers in East Asia and Europe in reading, math and science, according to results of an international exam that suggest U.S. schools are not doing enough to prepare young people for the competitive global economy.
The results of the Program for International Student Assessment—widely known as PISA—were released Tuesday and show widening disparities between high- and low-performing students in the United States, adding to a growing body of evidence showing worsening inequity in public schools.
The exam was first administered in 2000 to measure the performance of 15-year-olds in the 35 industrialized countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and has been administered every three years since. It has expanded beyond the 35 member countries. In 2018, 600,000 students from 79 countries took the exam.
Is it true, as the headline announced, that U.S. teens are behind their global peers in reading, math and science?
On balance, we'd have to say no. In our view, those statements are so absurdly misleading that, on balance, it makes most sense to regard them as simply false.
That said, let's be fair!
In fairness to the three journalists who prepared these gloomy, misleading and false reports, they were skillfully working from well-established upper-end journalistic script. Over the past decade or so, it has been a virtual requirement—all reporting about American schools must push one basic idea:
Nothing has worked in our public schools.This standard script has shaped education reporting over the past several decades. For the most part, this gloomy story-line was peddled in support of the very type of "education reform" which has itself now failed to work, according to the gloomy headline on the front page of last Tuesday's Times.
If we might once again borrow from Joyce, this script has been general all over our flailing, benighted nation's attempts at education reporting. Consider:
We've been told that "nothing has worked" even as math and reading scores on the Naep rose and rose and rose, by what seem to be large amounts.
We've been told that "nothing has worked" even as American kids scored surprisingly well in reading and science on the international stage, as they did, once again, on the Pisa scores which were released last week.
Did American teens really "lag behind their peers in East Asia and Europe in reading, math and science" in the Pisa data which were released last week?
On balance, we'd say that claim is just wrong. And when you "disaggregate" American scores by ethnicity and race, you're confronted with results which fly in the face of conventional public understanding—results the Post and the Times omitted from their carefully culled, misleading and false reports.
Even in the aggregate, American teens scored surprisingly well in reading and science on the Pisa. As always, they scored less well on the Pisa'a somewhat unusual math test, but as everyone knows except newspaper readers, American kids score substantially better in math on the other international standardized test, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (the Timss), which takes a more traditional approach.
Reading the Times and the Post last week, American citizens got to choose between gloomy, misleading and false. Points of truly amazing trivia were thrown in for good measure, producing the standardized brew of gloom and despair about the state of American schools.
Over the next few days, we're going to give you a fuller picture of what those Pisa scores seem to show. Would it surprise you to learn that two large segments of the American student population would, if viewed as separate nations, be the two highest-scoring nations in the world in both reading and science?
We know, we know—that can't be true! We all know that isn't possible. Everyone knows that can't be true because we all know that nothing has worked!
More accurately, very little has worked at the Times and the Post over the course of the decades in question. For most of those newspapers' education reporters, the only discernible skill involves recitation of standardized script, a product which has been served to the public down through these many dumb years.
Tomorrow: Where we stood among all those nations
Thursday: Now, let's disaggregate!