PISA

So Europe has this thing, this big-giant study that compares all the different school systems and then ranks them. Pisa stands for Program for International Student Assessment, and in the last one, a few years ago, Germany ranked considerably lower than it expected to. Now, part of this has to be because all is not well in the former East, not by a long shot. But still, people were upset.

Now the latest test seems to indicate that Germany is doing a bit better, but the test’s creator is saying that that’s because the test has changed, not because Germany has improved. He doesn’t appear to notice that this would indicate a fairly huge flaw in his test: if you change the structure, and the results change, then how can you know you’re getting accurate results?

Anyway, um. Every European country has a different school system, and comparing them is very much an apples-and-oranges thing. German University is what we know as grad school in the States: when Ignatz finished high school, he’ll be qualified to start working on a Masters degree. (We don’t think he will, but he would be eligible if he wanted to.) Germany also has a high percentage of immigrant students who come in not knowing any German, and this appears to be a huge problem, though I don’t really understand why. DrBob says it’s impossible to reach the teaching goals for a school year if half your students can’t understand you and you have to keep backing up to include them. Well of course it is. That is why, in the U.S., we have ESL classes for immigrant kids. Duh. You don’t just toss the kids into school and expect them to pick the language up. I may be digressing here. My original point was that Finland, which ranked near the top of the list, has hardly any immigrants. That’ll affect their score. On the other hand, if Germany isn’t making any effort to help immigrant kids assimilate, well, they deserve what they get, don’t they?

One point I want to highlight, that was way down south in the article, given much less importance than I think it deserves, is this little factoid: Finland excluded its dyslexic kids from the testing, while Germany made a point of getting an accurate cross-section, including special-needs kids. Okay, seriously? If you get to choose which kids participate in the test, how can you have any faith in the results?

As you know, I am exceedingly ambivalent about the German school system, but on balance, I like it better than the American one. I will never be able to accept the disparate funding of public schools, that’s just so profoundly anti-democratic, anti-opportunity, anti-everything we claim to stand for as a nation. I also like it better than the British school system, which, from what I hear, is so bad that anyone who can possibly afford it sends their kid to private school. I wonder, where was the Pisa-test taken in Britain? In the private schools, the state schools, or both?

But I don’t know if I’m buying the Pisa results. There are just too many flaws, too much left out of the picture, and honestly, it won’t push Germans to make the changes that I think are necessary.

Oh heavens, and there’s the whole class (i.e. social status) issue that I forgot to address. Well, another time.

Song du jour of the day: The Holly and the Ivy, author unknown.

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