Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

So Much For Finland

Read this article in Gates Education Week about the TIMSS and PISA scores and you will learn that on the latest tests, Finland is no longer the "miracle" education performer:

Tom Loveless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, said in an email that the new results call for some rethinking of what he calls the “Finnish miracle story.”

“If Finland were a state taking the 8th grade NAEP, it would probably score in the middle of the pack,” he said, in a reference to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. He said that four of the U.S. states that participated in the 8th grade TIMSS—Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Indiana—posted scores that were higher than Finland’s by statistically significant margins in math, while three more had results that were about the same.

“Finland’s exaggerated reputation is based on its performance on PISA, an assessment that matches up well with its way of teaching math (applying math to solve ‘real world’ problems),” he wrote. “In contrast, TIMSS tries to assess how well students have learned the curriculum taught in schools.”

At the same time, Finland made a stronger showing than the United States in 4th and 8th grade science on TIMSS. In the 8th grade, for instance, Finland scored 552, compared with 525 for the United States. Measured another way, 53 percent of Finnish 8th graders reached either the “high” or the “advanced” level, the top two categories, compared with 40 percent of their peers in the United States.

Even so, Finland’s performance fell short of the results for the top-performing East Asian countries. It also was lower than Massachusetts’ score of 567.

The hand-wringing and kvetching that accompanies these articles about international test comparison studies are over the top.

The obsession with data tracking leads many so-called (and usually self-professed) education "experts" to declare a latest, greatest "miracle" every time out and shriek about how we MUST follow this latest, greatest "miracle" or risk falling into second class country status.

It's interesting how often the "latest, greatest" miracle is shown to be neither the "greatest" nor a "miracle" a couple of studies down the road.

Here in the U.S. we of course had the "Houston Miracle" and the "Texas Miracle" and the "Florida Miracle" and all of those were eventually exposed as fraudulent or oversold.

Now Brookings and a few others in this latest Gates Education Week article on the international scores are saying, "Maybe Finland, while a terrific performer, isn't the 'miracle' we thought it was..."

This begs the question, why do we listen to all the hand-wringing and kvetching from the so-called (and often self-professed) education "experts" when so many of the "miracles" they share with us turn to either be fraudulent (as in Houston) or oversold (as in Finland.)

Is it just possible that the so-called (and often self-professed) education "experts" don't know what they're talking about ?

 Is it possible there is more to education than just this obsession with data?

Is it possible these international test comparisons tell us a lot less than we think about the state education?


  1. Don't forget the Baltimore Miracle, the one in which Michelle Rhee got 63 out of 70 third graders to score at the 90th percentile, up from the 13th percentile when they were tested in 2nd grade.

  2. I was paying attention to the school zone and the crossing guard; and the bus was just one more distraction. The bus put out its stop sign, but the children could not use the crossing area because the bus was in the way. This was so confusing to me and I was thinking of complaining to the school

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