Opportunity, Collaboration & Discovery

Today's WOW Story: Yong Zhao's "Be Careful What You Wish For"

SMW, October 3, 2013 8:35 PM


Update: PISA's China Problem via Brookings

"The Chinese have seen enough damage
done by an overemphasis on testing and academic work
on creativity, innovation,
and student psychological and physical well-being."

- Dr. Yong Zhao

China: Flipping Standardized Testing on its Ear

Who Woulda Thunk?

by C.J. Westerberg

Yong-zhao.jpgYong Zhao, presidential chair and associate dean for global education in the College of Education at the University of Oregon, is one of our favorite outspoken critics of standardized testing overkill here in the U.S.  One of the first stories in The Daily Riff in December 2009 was The Chinese Curse: Is America Next? which featured a review of Zhao's book, Catching Up or Leading the Way.

Fast Forward to almost FOUR years later and Zhao reports today via Edweek:

The Chinese Ministry of Education (MOE) is getting ready for another round of measures to lessen the academic burden of its students. The MOE has last month ended its second attempt to solicit public commentaries on its 10 Measures to Lessen Academic Burden of Middle and Primary School Students. The first version of the 10 Measures was published in August for public commenting, as I wrote in a blog post.

To be implemented soon, these measures, including banning standardized testing and written homework for lower primary grades, are drastic.

Zhao then continues to mention how public support is both overwhelming and skeptical since there have been attempts at reform for half a century.  Most importantly, however, Zhao rails against U.S. idolizers of Chinese test scores:

First, Americans and other Western countries have long admired how hard the Chinese students work and many have attributed Chinese students' stunning performance on international assessments such as the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) to their diligence. China has been held as an example of a high performing education system and a model worth imitating (e.g., a call for longer school days and years). But, the Chinese apparently think otherwise. They have been eager to be rid of the primary factor contributing to their outstanding test scores and the very aspect of education that Western countries are eager to borrow. The reason is very simple: The Chinese have seen enough damage done by an overemphasis on testing and academic work on creativity, innovation, and student psychological and physical well-being.

The second lesson comes from the difficulty of moving away from a testing culture once it takes root. In China, test scores determine a student's life--scores in primary schools determine which middle school a student can attend; scores in middle school determine which high school a student can go to; and scores at the end of high school, the infamous College Entrance Exam or Gaokao, determine which college a student can attend, if at all, and such a decision also determines one's future career and social status. Consequently, tests dominate a child's life and by association, the reputation of a school and teachers.

It is thus not surprising that students, their parents, school, and teachers all work hard to ensure students achieve high test scores all the time. It is then common sense that all students try to spend as much time on academics (only the tested subjects though) as possible, and their parents and teachers are there to make sure they do so. . . 

Zhao continues with more explanation as to why it will be so difficult for China to change and warns "America and other Western nations that are eager to make testing an integral feature of schooling". 

It's a slippery slope, indeed.

Read full article HERE.

Below is Zhao's above-mentioned post, China Enters Testing-Free Zone: The Ten Commandments of Testing Reform from August 2013 announcing this initiative:

No standardized tests, no written homework, no tracking. These are some of the new actions China is taking to lessen student academic burden. The Chinese Ministry of Education released Ten Regulations to Lessen Academic Burden for Primary School Students this week for public commentary. The Ten Regulations are introduced as one more significant measure to reform China's education, in addition to further reduction of academic content, lowering the academic rigor of textbooks, expanding criteria for education quality, and improving teacher capacity.

The regulations included in the published draft are:

    Transparent admissions. Admission to a school cannot take into account any achievement certificates or examination results. Schools must admit all students based on their residency without considering any other factors.

    Balanced Grouping. Schools must place students into classes and assign teachers randomly. Schools are strictly forbidden to use any excuse to establish "fast-track├«" and "slow-track" classes.

    "Zero-starting point" Teaching. All teaching should assume all first graders students begin at zero proficiency. Schools should not artificially impose higher academic expectations and expedite the pace of teaching.

    No Homework. No written homework is allowed in primary schools. Schools can however assign appropriate experiential homework by working with parents and community resources to arrange field trips, library visits, and craft activities.

    Reducing Testing. No standardized testing is allowed for grades 1 through 3; For 4th grade and up, standardized testing is only allowed once per semester for Chinese language, math, and foreign language. Other types of tests cannot be given more than twice per semester.

    Categorical Evaluation. Schools can only assess students using the categories of "Exceptional, Excellent, Adequate, and Inadequate," replacing the traditional 100-point system.

    Minimizing Supplemental Materials. Schools can use at most one type of materials to supplement the textbook, with parental consent. Schools and teachers are forbidden to recommend, suggest, or promote any supplemental materials to students.

    Strictly Forbidding Extra Class. Schools and teachers cannot organize or offer extra instruction after regular schools hours, during winter and summer breaks and other holidays. Public schools and their teachers cannot organize or participate in extra instructional activities.

    Minimum of One Hour of Physical Exercise. Schools are to guarantee the offering of physical education classes in accordance with the national curriculum, physical activities and eye exercise during recess.

    Strengthening Enforcement. Education authorities at all levels of government shall conduct regular inspection and monitoring of actions to lessen student academic burden and publish findings. Individuals responsible for academic burden reduction are held accountable by the government.

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The secret message communicated to most young people today by the society around them is that they are not needed, that the society will run itself quite nicely until they - at some distant point in the future - will take over the reigns. Yet the fact is that the society is not running itself nicely... because the rest of us need all the energy, brains, imagination and talent that young people can bring to bear down on our difficulties. For society to attempt to solve its desperate problems without the full participation of even very young people is imbecile.
Alvin Toffler
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