A sampling of fourth graders in countries around the world took the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) test in reading in 2016. If you want to see the numbers broken down into all kinds of subunits, here they are
. But the bottom line is, U.S. scores are flat. Actually, they dropped back to 2001 levels after going up a few points—not a whole lot, just a few points—on the 2006 and 2011 tests. Twelve countries outperformed us. You can find the top twelve list at the end of the post. Another fifteen differed by a few points, but the difference isn't statistically significant.
So, we're back on the same square we were sitting on when our barrage of high stakes testing began in 2001 with No Child Left Behind. All that testing, all that test prepping, all that time taken away from other subjects, open-ended discussions and the chance for children to be children out on the playground, and we're back on the same square we started on. It's possible the whole Common Core thing brought down the small gains we made from 2001 to 2011, but that's a tough one to assess, especially with such the small upward bump. The important takeaway for me is, testing was supposed to prod teachers to teach better and administrators to administer better, and the differences would show up in the test scores. After fifteen years, that looks like a false promise.
So, do we scale back testing to a more reasonable level—say, take a snapshot at a few grade levels every few years rather than testing every student at every grade every damn year? Sounds like a good idea to me. Unfortunately, it's not likely in the short term. The educational/industrial complex makes all kinds of money from selling tests and materials related to testing, and it's not likely to give up its cash cow without a fight.
The Top Twelve:
Here are the top twelve scoring countries, starting from the top and working down: Russian Federation, Singapore, Hong Kong CHN, Ireland, Finland, Poland, Northern Ireland GBR, Norway, Chinese Taipei CHN, England GBR, Latvia, Sweden.