December 11, 2012

Mandatory Finnish content

In PISA exams, Finland usually is the top scoring white country. Although I have a large number of brilliant Finnish readers, I had expressed some skepticism: maybe Finns just try real hard on PISA and won't do as well on the other main international tests?

So, how did Finland do in the 2011 TIMSS and PIRLS tests among white countries/regions?

Math 4th Grade: 3rd place, behind Northern Ireland and Flemish Belgium
Math 8th Grade: 3rd place, behind Russia and Israel
Science 4th Grade: 1st place
Science 8th Grade: 1st place

PIRLS
Reading 4th Grade, Overall Reading Average Scale Score: 2nd place, behind Russia
Reading 4th Grade, Reading Literacy: NA

Don't ask me what the difference is between the two Reading tables.

So, Finland does quite well on these tests, too, even though there isn't otherwise much correlation within racial groups between the 2009 PISA and the 2011 TIMSS/PIRLS. On both sets of tests, northeast Asian countries did extremely well on math/science and quite well on reading, rich white countries came in the middle, followed by poor white countries, and then the Third World. But, within, say, Western Europe there isn't much consistency about whether a country scores at the top of the pack or the bottom of the pack among the tests. (A big reason is that the packs are pretty similar, so rank order can change easily).

Except Finland.

One reason is that Finland is just about the whitest of the rich white countries. It only recently hopped on the Third World refugee freight train to who knows where. (White American kids would lead all the countries in the world on the PIRLS, unless Asian-Americans had their own country.)

But I guess we should also be taking seriously Finland's laidback educational techniques, which are, on the whole, the opposite of the more obvious way the northeast Asians grind out high test scores.

By the way, the outstanding Russian performance on these new tests (as opposed to the middling Russian performance on the PISA) is ... interesting.

There might be a niche occupation in the future for somebody to be the Unbiased Expert on international testing.

21 comments:

Five Daarstens said...

I know the secret of the Finnish education system. I can save the US billions trying to recreate it. The secret lies within a poster at work when I was in Europe, it was called "The Model European". The entry for the Finns was - "The Model European is as quiet as a Finn". There you go, secret solved.

ben tillman said...

One thing that presumably helps their reading scores is that the written language is so regular. What you hear is what you see on paper.

Anonymous said...

I don't know how true this is, but I've heard that their teaching strategy is very different.

In the US, teachers are expected to teach to the mean or higher and keep a strict schedule, regardless of whether students fall behind. And there is also pressure from parental groups to have the best teachers focus on accelerated students, leaving mediocre teachers with mediocre students.

In Finland, I've heard the rule for teachers is to teach to the left of the curve. The academic schedule is, apparently, adjusted for this. The idea is that right curve students will do well regardless of the pace of the class. If necessary, they will learn ahead of schedule, on their own. So the focus of educators is to make sure that the left of the curve students have a firm understanding of the material before they start the next grade.

Again, it's something I have no knowledge of... just heard it.

Dr Van Nostrand said...

Something about the Finno Ugrian peoples and their cousins.Barbaric and uncouth in the past but high IQ and cultural today.
The Hungarians have disproportionately contributed scientists and classical musicians in the last two centuries.
The Turks are the most educated people in the Middle East(granted this is more of a case of -in a blind world one eyed man is king but still..)

The descendents of their ancestors ,the Huns, are found in India where they are now Gujaratis,Marwaris and some North Indian Brahmins and other upper castes who also do very well academically.

Like Germans,Israelites,Japanese post WWII ,it seems that once a borderline psycho warlike people settle down-they really settle down, but they combine their smarts with the revival of their warlike prowess(Germans in WWII) ...better watch out!

Anonymous said...

It is instructive to compare Finland with England.
After WW2 the Finnish economy was absolutely shattered. not only had the Soviet Union exappropriated a huge chunk of its best territory, it was forced to pay ebormous war reparations to the USSR for the privelege of suffering a Soviet invasion.
So huge were the reparartions that the entire Finnish econmy had to be re-ordered to earn enough foreign exchange to pay them.
At that time, Finland possessed little industry and mostly depended on forestry and agriculture.
Britain, OTOH, was in 1945, by a very long shot the world's second biggest industrial, economic and manufacturing power, to say nothing of its colonial possessions. It's only real rival, Germany, was utterly destroyed.
- And yet, a few generations after the war, England is a largely deindustrialised and demoralized nation, with horrible societal tensions and deep seated and deep rooted poverty - and a rather bad educational system.
Finland is a happy, prosperous, well ordered and wealthy society, with h-tech export industries and excellent public services including education.

DanJ said...

"In Finland, I've heard the rule for teachers is to teach to the left of the curve."

This is true. A lot of attention is spent on keeping students from falling too far behind. Finnish schools also employ teaching assistants to help slower students keep pace (in the classroom during lessons) when needed.

Teaching in Finland does not pay well, but is high status socially. Many appreciative nods and murmurs from prospective in-laws when a young teacher is brought home to meet the parents.

Teachers in Finland also have more authority in class than their Nordic colleagues. Parents have traditionally supported the teachers in keeping a reasonable level of discipline, although this might be changing now, with more parents picking up new ideas of entitlement.

Regarding testing for this or any other international comparison, there is no preparation or cramming for these tests in Finnish schools. The test results show the state of education as it is.

TH said...

According commentary in Finnish newspapers, the performance of Finnish students in math has deteriorated an equivalent of one grade level since 1999 when Finland participated in the TIMSS study the previous time, which would suggest that the trends have been even worse elsewhere. (I'm not sure if the results are comparable in this way, but that's what they say, and university teachers all agree that the math skills of freshmen are getting worse every year.)

In Finland, I've heard the rule for teachers is to teach to the left of the curve. The academic schedule is, apparently, adjusted for this. The idea is that right curve students will do well regardless of the pace of the class. If necessary, they will learn ahead of schedule, on their own. So the focus of educators is to make sure that the left of the curve students have a firm understanding of the material before they start the next grade.

There's something to that, even though I don't think there's any rule. The spread of scores is among the smallest in Finland in all these studies.

Heartless said...

Yes, in Finland the teacher makes sure no one gets left behind, and the workbooks have extra material and tasks for those more advanced so the class geniuses aren't bored while waiting. Also, for example my daughter is doing better in math than anyone in her class (even did all the extra material provided) but is behind in her Finnish reading tasks, she is put to do the reading tasks on math classes to even it out. Just an example.

Unknown said...

Having been a teacher (mostly math) in a Finnish elementary school, this is my personal experience, with all the usual caveats: the focus is on the 5th to 50th percentiles. You spend 80% of your time and attention trying to figure out what their flawed priors are and keep them halfway motivated, and the rest goes into sedating the bottom 5% and maybe, if you're lucky, giving extra assignments to the top half. I spent a semester in a school where maybe half the students were 1st and 2nd gen immigrants -sweet kids, but not impressed with what few disciplinary measures were available.

Unknown said...

Having been a teacher (mostly math) in a Finnish elementary school, this is my personal experience, with all the usual caveats: the focus is on the 5th to 50th percentiles. You spend 80% of your time and attention trying to figure out what their flawed priors are and keep them halfway motivated, and the rest goes into sedating the bottom 5% and maybe, if you're lucky, giving extra assignments to the top half. I spent a semester in a school where maybe half the students were 1st and 2nd gen immigrants -sweet kids, but not impressed with what few disciplinary measures were available.

Anonymous said...

@Anon 10.29
I've heard similar. More specifically, the feeling is the Finns have mastered the art of getting the lower half to do their best, but that they weren't doing enough to push the top ~10% to their best. I forget where I'm getting this, so don't lend it to much credence.

Hunsdon said...

ben tillman observed: What you hear is what you see on paper.

Hunsdon enthused: Also for Russian.

Anonymous said...

By the way, the outstanding Russian performance on these new tests (as opposed to the middling Russian performance on the PISA) is ... interesting. There might be a niche occupation in the future for somebody to be the Unbiased Expert on international testing.

So you think the Russkies are cheating?

Pulling a nation-wide Clarence Mumford?

Anonymous said...

Might I suggest that "teaching to the left of the curve" makes sense as a strategy for raising scores if the curve is both constricted and moved to the right? If IQ 100 is the left hand side of the curve, it's one thing. If it's IQ 76, well, the kids won't learn a thing.

Same for the laid-back education methods. Might work great for a bunch of upper middle-class white kids. In the 'hood, it's sure to be a disaster.

FWG said...

Yes! I was hoping there would be more Finnish content soon!

Signed,

A proud Finnish-American

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but these country-to-country comparisons seem meaningless, given the lack of information about the sample groups. It is likely that, especially in less-developed or developing nations, the sample group is more likely to capture the elite and less likely to include the more rank and file population with less access to schooling

Eric Rasmusen said...

That's a good thought about Finland being the whitest. We tend to think that America has a higher fraction of underperforming subgroups than European countries. Is that even true nowadays? How do the 3rd world immigrants do on tests in France, Germany, etc ?

Anonymous said...

I am not surprised by Russia's performance. Russia inherited an excellent Soviet primary and secondary education system. In the 1990s, the quality of education it went sharply downhill along with everything else (not paying the teachers for months and years at a time would do that.) But as Russia got richer they seem to start getting their act together and restore some of the former glory.

Anonymous said...

"Again, it's something I have no knowledge of... just heard it." - Well it does help when theres only 1 curve.

Anonymous said...

The Finns are an intelligent people.

And will undoubtedly become more so with the influx of Somalis and others to their peaceful country...

Tony said...

Yeah, you know something is up if northern ireland came in first in the math TIMSS>