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MCPS Students Score High on PISA Test

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Montgomery County students scored better on an international test than their peers in Finland, Singapore, and other top performing countries, school officials say.

Only the 15-year-olds at Blacksburg High School (BHS) took the PISA test—which assesses students on their math, reading, science, problem solving and financial literacy abilities—in early 2018. Their results were compared to the test scores of students in more than 70 other countries.

BHS principal Brian Kitts said in an email to The Bruin News that around 80 students took the test. Those 80 students were selected from the 15-year-olds that had the 100 highest grade point averages.

Although the United States as a whole ranked 13th in the world, MCPS’s mean scores ranked higher than every other country’s that took the test.

Yannick Pleimling, a student at BHS who took the test last year, said he expected Blacksburg High School students to get high scores.

“I had the feeling we would do well, but not as well as this,” said Pleimling, junior.

However, he says he’s not sure that the method of student selection completely represents the student body.

“I am not entirely convinced that the sampling was random. Though, it does give an accurate depiction of our best and brightest.”

On a scale of 700, MCPS received a mean score of 596 points. Singapore, the highest scoring country, got a mean score of 535.

Finland, a country long-commended for its educational practices, scored on average around 100 points less in several of the tested categories when compared to Blacksburg students.

“I had the opportunity to visit Finland and tour schools that were the best in the world,” Superintendent Mark Miear said in a press release. “I knew then our schools would be competitive because I saw similar practices and similar levels of learning. The results from this test reaffirm our success.”

Here’s how the rankings in the countries with the top 10 mean scores break down:

  1. Singapore
  2. Japan
  3. Estonia
  4. Taipei
  5. Finland
  6. Macao
  7. Canada
  8. Vietnam
  9. Hong Kong
  10. China

The PISA, or Program for International Student Development, test was created by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and is a “triennial survey” that school districts use as a benchmark for their students. The test Blacksburg students took last school year was originally administered in 2015 in 72 countries. The OECD says the hope is school administrators can use that comparison to measure the effectiveness of their education system.

The 2015 results appear to confirm what many in the U.S. have feared for years. Americans overall are falling behind in education when compared to their international peers, even if MCPS students performed well. Although the United States is the largest economy in the world, it didn’t even break the top ten.

When the results were first released a couple years ago following the 2015 survey, then-U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. called the scores “sobering,” according to the Washington Post.

“We’re losing ground, a troubling prospect when, in today’s knowledge-based economy, the best jobs can go anywhere in the world,” King said back in 2016 at an event in Boston.

However, Svein Sjøberg, an education professor at the University of Oslo, writes PISA isn’t without its criticisms.

“Coping with life in modern societies requires a range of competencies and skills that cannot possibly be measured by test items of the PISA units’ format, Sjøberg explained in a 2007 review of the test.

In fact, Sjøberg says the entire ranking system the public sees is far too simplistic.

“These league tables are nearly the only results that appear in the mass media. Although the PISA researchers take care to explain that many differences (say, between a mean national score of 567 and 572) are not statistically significant, the placement on the list gets most of the public attention.”

Kitts says this school year, both Blacksburg and Christiansburg High Schools will participate in PISA testing.

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MCPS Students Score High on PISA Test