Chinese Students Shanghaied into PISA Stunner?
China seems determined to dominate in everything these day, from sports to economics to politics, and now -- as reported by Sam Dillon in "Top Test Scores From Shanghai Stun Educators" (NYT, December 7, 2010) -- China's triumph on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA):
With China's debut in international standardized testing, students in Shanghai have surprised experts by outscoring their counterparts in dozens of other countries, in reading as well as in math and science, according to the results of a respected exam.How well did the Chinese do? This well:
PISA scores are on a scale, with 500 as the average. Two-thirds of students in participating countries score between 400 and 600. On the math test last year, students in Shanghai scored 600, in Singapore 562, in Germany 513, and in the United States 487.This is rather stunning, especially for first-time performers. But I wonder . . . were perhaps the best and the brightest Chinese students shanghaied into this? The claim is that the "5,100 15-year-olds in Shanghai were chosen as a representative cross-section of students in that city," but I have to wonder, given China's record, if there's not a hidden story behind this triumph. Recall the cute little girl Lin Miaoke who sang so well at the Beijing Olympics, only to turn out to have been lip-synching to the voice of Yang Peiyi? The real singer was deemed not cute enough for China's image. Am I overly suspicious, then, in wondering about the representative validity of these test scores? At least one expert raised a similar question:
In reading, Shanghai students scored 556, ahead of second-place Korea with 539. The United States scored 500 and came in 17th, putting it on par with students in the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Germany, France, the United Kingdom and several other countries.
In science, Shanghai students scored 575. In second place was Finland, where the average score was 554. The United States scored 502 -- in 23rd place -- with a performance indistinguishable from Poland, Ireland, Norway, France and several other countries.
Shanghai is a huge migration hub within China. Students are supposed to return to their home provinces to attend high school, but the Shanghai authorities could increase scores by allowing stellar students to stay in the city.Not that I'm impugning the mental abilities of the Chinese, who are both smart and disciplined, and the expert puts his point of suspicion forward only as a speculation, offering no evidence as support. Moreover, the real news, for my money, was that the Shanghai students showed themselves to be doing more than mere rote memory work:
Large fractions of these students demonstrate their ability to extrapolate from what they know and apply their knowledge very creatively in novel situations.That's something to admire, even if the representative validity of the Shanghai student sample might be questioned.