Are American students overtested? Listen to what students themselves say

by Andreas Schleicher 
Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills 

One of the claims one hears frequently these days is that American students have no time for learning because they are permanently subjected to standardised testing, while Finnish students, in turn, live in that paradise where high learning outcomes are achieved by everyone without any testing.

It is actually very hard to find comparative data on the prevalence of testing in OECD countries. So to explore this, we asked the principals of 15-year-old students who participated in the  PISA assessment how frequently their students take part in standardised tests. And over the years I have learned to trust the reports of students and principals on what actually happens in the classroom more than the claims of many experts

Here is what I found: 34% of 15-year-olds in the Netherlands said they take a standardised test at least once a month, 21% of students in Israel said so, and on average across OECD countries 8% of students so reported. In the United States, only 2% of students said they took standardised tests at least once a month. By the way, that turns out to be exactly the same share as in Finland.

Some 97% of American 15-year-olds said they took a standardised test at least once or twice a year, again about the same share as in Finland. Across OECD countries, an average of 76% of students so reported. Some 40% of American
15-year-olds took such tests at least three to five times a year, compared with 16% in Finland and 17% on average across countries. Interestingly, on some other forms of assessments, like student portfolios, Finland comes out far ahead of the United States.

Now, some will say these data are from 2009 and things might have changed since then. But we asked the same question again in the 2015 PISA assessment; those results will be disclosed next year. So watch this space.

Photo credit: Students sitting tests @Shutterstock

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