December 4, 2007

Makes you proud to be an American

I never know how seriously to take international school achievement tests, such as the newly released results for the 2006 Program for International Student Assessment that tests 15 year olds in the 57 richest countries in reading, math, and science. Math seems reasonably straight-forward to compare (although the order in which topics are presented in high school could mess up comparisons if the test expects some things that will only be taught later in that country). But how do you compare reading across dozens of languages? It sounds awfully dependent upon the lucidity of the translator.

I presume there are a lot of ways to game these tests if you really wanted to try. A commenter suggests that Finland, a perennial powerhouse in these rankings, dumps more students into special ed classes off limits to testers. Or it could be that Finland has fewer immigrants. (Finland's traditional main minority are prosperous Swedish-speakers.) Or it could be that the lack of underperforming minorities helps Finland concentrate on practical ways to improve educations, whereas in the U.S., educational strategy is dysfunctional due to the need to not think about the Bell Curve gaps. Who really knows?

But maybe it all doesn't much matter, since the international test results seem to correlate with Lynn and Vanhanen's IQ scores reasonably well.

Anyway, here's the Financial Times' summary of the 2006 PISA:

Asia-Pacific’s strong showing is one of the clearest themes of the Pisa survey, which was carried out in 57 countries that account for 90 per cent of the world gross domestic product. The region contributes five of the top 10 in the mathematics and science league tables, and four of the top 10 in reading – thanks to strong contributions from Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Macao, Australia and New Zealand. Mainland China did not participate.

But the league tables show Finland is the most consistently high performer – repeating its sterling performance in the last survey in 2003. It comes top in science, and second in maths and in reading – where it is bested only by South Korea.

The US, the world’s largest economy, is below the OECD average in science and maths, and fails even to make the tables in reading because a misprint in the test confused too many students and invalidated the results.

Makes you proud to be an American, doesn't it?

At least we're not Mexico. PISA ranks students on a 7 stage scale from Below Level 1 up through Level 6. According to PISA, you need to be at least at Level 2 to actually start making use of all this book-learnin'. In the U.S. 10% of the kids are Below Level 1 in math, and 18% are at Level 1, for a total of 28% below the minimum level of any kind of math competence. In Mexico, however, twice that percentage, 56%, are at those two bottom levels, with 28% being Below Level 1. And that's after a sharp improvement since 2003. In other words, Mexico's 19 year olds are even less educated.

So, we can take pride that we aren't Mexico. Oh, except that lots of the worst students in Mexico are moving to America every day. Never mind ...

By the way, Mexico's high end in math isn't very good either -- just 1% are at Levels 5 and 6, versus a little under 8% in the U.S. But we're pretty bad compared to 32% at the top two levels in Taiwan and 24% in Finland.

Nine countries out of 57 did even worse than Mexico in math: Montenegro, Indonesia, Jordan, Argentina, Colombia, Brazil, Tunisia, Qatar, Kyrgyzstan. (The study was not conducted in any sub-Saharan African country.)

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

23 comments:

Dragonwind said...

I don't know if this is true but an education researcher told me Finlands scores are high partially because they have an unusually high share of dumb students in "special" education (half the Finland advantage vs. Scandinavia remains even if first and second gen immigrants are removed)

Anonymous said...

Nine countries out of 57 did even worse than Mexico in math: Montenegro, Indonesia, Jordan, Argentina, Colombia, Brazil, Tunisia, Qatar, Kyrgyzstan.

The fact that Montenegro (all white), Argentina (mostly white) and Brazil (sizable white minority) all scored below Mexico doesn't square well with certain racial theories.

Peter

gringo said...

I'm surprised to see Argentina do worse in math than Mexico given the racial compositions of both countries. They must have a poor education system.

Anonymous said...

In math, Israel had 6.1% in the Level 5+ range and 42.0% below Level 2.

Howard J. Harrison said...

Nine countries out of 57 did even worse than Mexico in math: ... Argentina, ...

Argentina? Who would have thought it? On reading this I checked Wikipedia (one never knows if Wikipedia is accurate but it surely is convenient) and found to my surprise that Argentina's per-capita GDP is only an eighth that of the U.S. I had always thought of famously white Argentina as a rich country. Nothing spoils a good misconception like actual facts, I guess.

But how do you compare reading across dozens of languages? It sounds awfully dependent upon the lucidity of the translator.

I also have wondered this. Anyone who has studied languages knows how deeply languages can differ. In German the vocabulary is a twisted, inconsistent (but pleasantly earthy) mess of forgotten metaphors, whereas Greek brings a rather different character. One might compare German and Greek children at reading Esperanto, perhaps, but at reading German and Greek? It does seem unlikely.

Gc said...

As a finnish math student I have read some views of the finnish mathematical elite about this Pisa thing. For finnish readers there are lots of discussion in the Solmu math magazine. First of all the elite complain that the Pisa tests math section doens`t actually measure how well you understand the mathematical consepts, just how well you can perform calculations. In fact the Pisa test math section measures more the ability of solve problems than mathematics itself. Finnish school mathematics changed in the last few decades so that the kids do lots of calculations but less more abstract stuff like algebra. In other studies where mathematics knowledge itself is measured the finnish kids do a lot worse, expecially in algebra. Some old behaviorist in charge of whatever in the finnish education ministry was quoted saying at the time of the changes that the algebra is just a formal playing not needed in the school.
In school mathematics all the people in the europe do a lot worse than before the education reform in the sixties. In fact it has gone worse all the time. In Finland the math and also natural science teachers do know their subject as well as before, though. And I know a lot of future math teachers in their early twenties and they are damn talented people. In Finland is very respectfull to be a teacher, so the standars are still high.

Anonymous said...

Who cares if other countries "cheat" on these tests? The bottom line is that US performance stinks. Hardly surprising.

Just look around any urban area at the "youths" one sees -- they look like barbarians. Poorly dressed and even more poorly groomed. They speak in monosyllabic grunts. They wear perpetual scowls on their faces. Genuine smiles and laughter are rare. Oh, and they are dumb as effing rocks. To make matters worse, we keep importing more and more losers from Mexico and other backward countries.

No way in hell the present generations of under-30 types will be able to keep our society running at the high level we have achieved to date.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Montenegro, don't Croatians and Peruvians both clock in at 90 on IQ tests? What's up with the low performance of South Slavs?

Anonymous said...

Rock on Canada. I guess there's something
to daniel patrick moynihan's old saw about
moving closer to Canada. Must be the higher percentage of people with Scottish ancestory in Canada versus the higher percentage of Irish in the US.

David said...

The fact that Montenegro (all white), Argentina (mostly white) and Brazil (sizable white minority) all scored below Mexico doesn't square well with certain racial theories.

I can't speak to Montenegro and Argentina, but Brazil is described as having "a sizeable white minority." Minority. Anyone who has heard of averages (knows math) can fill in the blanks.

And how sizeable is that minority? How white is it? How many "boys from Brazil" took these tests? Are they in special private schools, exempt from the test?

The crucial question is, Who was tested? "15-year-olds" doesn't cut it. As in the Finnish example, there are important questions about sample bias, unlike in more careful IQ tests.

Even given these wild variables, as Steve said, "[these] test results seem to correlate with Lynn and Vanhanen's IQ scores reasonably well."

Anony-mouse said...

So? How well would the Wright Brothers, Edison, Franklin, Fulton, Morse, or Ford have done on math tests? Americans are famously inventive but not necessarily great in math.

No math wiz would have thought of putting potato chips in tennis ball cans. That requires an American.

Anonymous said...

The PISA scientists consider the 'exclusion rate' of testees at the school level, as far as I know, and if it's over a certain cut-off they keep the school out of the sample. So dragonwind's hypothesis wouldn't hold; they're alert to that method of gaming.

quo vadis scipio said...

Asia-Pacific’s strong showing is one of the clearest themes of the Pisa survey ... The region contributes five of the top 10 in the mathematics and science league tables, and four of the top 10 in reading ...

there is a certain region in asia. it has some of the wealthiest people in the world, some of the highest IQ people in the world, along with some of the highest real estate values in the world. it also has an anglo-saxon civic legacy.

unfortunately this place will never be a center of discovery. it will never be a center of science, art, music or literature. it will never actually lead the world in anything. except maybe real estate values and perhaps commerce.

the name of this region is hong kong.

quo vadis scipio said...

Asia-Pacific’s strong showing is one of the clearest themes of the Pisa survey

steve, since the asians are such geniuses as revealed by aptitude tests, in theory it shouldn't take too long until we are all dependent on asian science; until we are all captivated by asian drama and asian literature; until we are all dancing to asian music; until we are wearing asian styles of clothing etc.

question: what percentage of chinese scientific and artistic achievement today is the result of espionage or larceny?

question: what can be said about a race which implements 3,000-5,000 pictogram character symbols to construct their written language? as opposed to another race which implements 26 letters and 10 numerals to achieve the most sophisticated levels of written communication?

answer: westerners do not require the presence of asians to 1) discover anything 2) materially prosper 3) build civilizations 4) or see the light.

Escuerd said...

"So? How well would the Wright Brothers, Edison, Franklin, Fulton, Morse, or Ford have done on math tests? Americans are famously inventive but not necessarily great in math."

Off the top of my head, I can't speak about the others, but Franklin and Edison would almost certainly have scored in the upper range.

Edison's mathematical skill was scorned by smarter folks like Tesla, but it was still much greater than average.

There's more to invention than intelligence, but I wouldn't denigrate its importance either. High "g" may not be sufficient for one to be a Dirac or Einstein, but it's pretty much necessary, and tends to entail good mathematical skills.

Anonymous said...

"Edison's mathematical skill was scorned by smarter folks like Tesla, but it was still much greater than average."

Tesla was Serbian, which is the essentially the same ethnicity as Montenegro.

Anonymous said...

I have to tell that swedish minority in Finland have significantly lower scores than finnish speakers in every subject still they score score pretty high internationally much higher than swedish school children in PISA sudy.
Other intresting tidbit is that we have small vietnamese minority in Finland and (not in PISA) vietnamese had avarage score of 7,2 and finnish had 7,4 in school pretty good for immigrant children.

Anonymous said...

Americans not great at math? What Planet do you live on. The contributions of American Mathematicains Euro-Christian ancestry is enormous(as are the contributions of Euro-Christaians in general.) Large scale post-1965 asian legal immigration was and is completely unnecessary as far as the interests of Euro-Americans go.

Anonymous said...

The fact that people are still relying on PISA scores to indicate how achieving students are globally is ridiculous.

For one, arguments that other nations cheat is just a prevelant here in America - I am a teacher, I have been through school, I have lived across the nation, and I don't know a single person who has ever taken the test, or seen it for that matter.

Secondly, the test is measuring students against different standards. In some nations in Europe, students at age 15 (the time of the test) are nearly graduated whereas in other nations (like America) 15 is only the beginning of their high school careers. How can you compare mastery between students who have not had the same amount of courses or the same curriculums.

Another issue is everyone's fascination with Finland. While their education system is phenomenal and something we aspire to, it's simply not feasible in America. They have a national curriculum, national teacher training, and their citizens actually respect and pay their teachers well. While it seems we are heading toward a national curriculum, the Republicans will be damned to see a national teacher training program, national data systems, and definitely won't be willing to pony up to support teachers in the way they've rallied for, for, oh, say, a few hundred years?

Cail Corishev said...

They have a national curriculum, national teacher training, and their citizens actually respect and pay their teachers well.

That's an impressive number of discredited education tropes packed into one paragraph.

Do you really think Finland pays teachers better than, say, Washington D.C.? As a teacher yourself, how have you managed to avoid the studies showing that increased spending on education doesn't raise test scores? Why do you think the next increase will do so?

Answer this: if you could swap the students in a typical Finland school with the students in a typical urban Kansas City school -- keeping teachers' salaries and that all-important respect and everything else the same -- can you say with a straight face that you think the Finnish students would fall to the previous Kansas City level, and the Kansas City students would drastically improve?

If not, why not? (Before you answer, be aware that we've already essentially done this experiment repeatedly through busing and judicially-forced spending, so those of us not holding our hands over our eyes singing "la la la I can't hear you for the past few decades" already know the answer.)

Anonymous said...

You totally missed every point in my comment. I never said that increased spending in education increases test scores. My post was about the lack of validity of the test scores.

I am merely saying that (1) PISA tests are a joke and do not accurately compare nations (2) America and Finland are so fantastically different (size, population, tax base, etc) that while we should absolutely commend them for a job well done in education, modeling our system after theirs is not feasible (3) Yes I do think the Finnish students would perform better in the same conditions because their society values education much more than ours does and research has shown that (more than spending, teacher effectiveness, resources, or even early learning) the family and the development they provide for their child is the biggest factor in a child's performance.

Cail Corishev said...

Yes I do think the Finnish students would perform better in the same conditions because their society values education much more than ours does

Good grief, when you bring "their society" back into it, you're not talking about "the same conditions"!

Try again: take a group of Finnish students and a group of Kansas City NAM students. Switch them, giving them each other's teachers, buildings, equipment, budgets, and level of parental involvement. Do you think they would swap outcomes as well? I don't think anyone really believes they would, but that claim is what our entire education system (not to mention immigration, welfare, and other programs) is built on.

When you say we can't compare test scores, and one reason for that is that they pay their teachers better than we pay ours, you are saying more spending can raise test scores. Hope you don't teach grammar or logic.

I actually agree with you that the PISA probably isn't all that useful. Not so much because there are too many differences between educational systems, but because we're not going to draw any sensible conclusions or take reasonable actions anyway. Mostly, for some reason, we just like to beat ourselves up for not being #1 at everything, and complain about kids and parents being lazy. So what's the point of comparing scores?

A real IQ test, being as culture- and education-neutral as possible, would be more useful in determining any actual difference in ability, but everyone knows it would have Unfortunate Implications, so we can't do that.

Cail Corishev said...

Yes I do think the Finnish students would perform better in the same conditions because their society values education much more than ours does and research has shown that (more than spending, teacher effectiveness, resources, or even early learning) the family and the development they provide for their child is the biggest factor in a child's performance.

You left out the biggest factor in a child's academic performance entirely.