A new report by an educational leadership group says there is no correlation between test scores on major national or international tests and a country’s gross domestic product or its productivity, based on US students’ performance on those tests and the economic leadership the US has shown.
According to ASCD, the average scores of 17-year-old students taking the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), often called the Nation’s Report Card, long-term trend reading and math tests have remained within a 10-point span since the tests were first administered in 1971 and 1978, respectively, yet the nation’s productivity and GDP have steadily increased over the same period.
Internationally, US students rank below the top-scoring countries on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) in reading and math. But international comparisons of economic data indicate that the United States remains an economic leader, ASCD said in its report.
Once again, ASCD has completely mishandled the data. The long-term trends reported from NAEP don’t even pretend to assess a student’s preparedness for work or a career, but it is our students’ readiness for those careers that ties more closely to the GDP and productivity data cited in the report.
Furthermore, we must resist using trends in a single test to measure student achievement, college preparedness, or career readiness. We reject the report here on its premise, and advise ASCD to leave the big data analysis to those who know how to perform such analyses. At the very least, when using GDP or productivity data, it should be reported what the basis for any increase or decrease was.
In addition, ASCD grossly oversimplifies the use of productivity data. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the manufacturing output per hour increased by a little over 4 percent in the US between 1979 and 2011, during which time that in Finland increased by 4.88 percent. ASCD uses “productivity per employed person” and omits the productivity per hour, showing the US ubiquitously higher than Finland on their graph.
But these data points aren’t the most comparable between the US and Finland because of actual working hours per year. The average annual hours worked in manufacturing in Finland went down by about a quarter of a percent between 1979 and 2011, while the average annual hours worked by a US worker went up by 0.13 percent over the same period.
So, if US workers spend more time manufacturing widgets, a certain percentage of the per-person increase in productivity ASCD trumpeted can be attributed to the fact that each “employed person” is just working more hours every year and probably paying for it with higher stress levels.
The analysis would have to be much more complex than ASCD can muster, and we send this report back to the drawing board. It wouldn’t even pass an initial review by peers, and ASCD should be ashamed for putting it out in such a way that blemishes the good work the organization has done in areas of curriculum.
The report reveals a casual, inaccurate, and unscientific glance at data available from the US government. In the interest of academic integrity, we call on ASCD to issue an immediate retraction and to expunge this attempt, deliberate or otherwise, to deceive the public by cherry-picking data and by using per-person instead of per-hour rates for productivity, from the published body of literature.