Same old test scores

December 07, 1993|By From an editorial in the Sacramento Bee.

THE newest international comparisons on the math proficiency of eighth-graders contained no great revelations. American 13-year-olds lag behind their peers in virtually all other industrialized nations. Some states -- Iowa, North Dakota, Minnesota -- are doing well in the international comparison, and some, such as Mississippi and the District of Columbia, are doing very badly.

Most of those numbers confirm a string of other international surveys, which generally show American students lagging behind in math, science and other fields even while they and their parents think they're doing well.

A number of critics have raised questions about the international comparisons, suggesting, for example, that since crucial decisions are made in other nations when students reach age 13 or 14 about their academic futures -- particularly about whether or not they'll follow a college preparatory track -- a lot more rides on academic proficiency at that age in those countries.

The response to such comments, as American Federation of Teachers President Al Shanker has pointed out, is that more ought to be riding on academic achievement in this country -- that if there were real consequences attached to performance, achievement and the demands that produce it would go up here.

There is resistance to such demands -- resistance saying we shouldn't pressure kids that much, or that it isn't fair, or that it's bad for self-esteem or for success on the football field -- but those are choices that parents, school boards and communities have to make. We can't pursue a laid-back academic philosophy and then forever complain that the schools are failing because the kids aren't achieving enough.

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