Today I had the pleasure of interviewing Andreas Schleicher, Deputy Director for Education and Skills, at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). He also oversees the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA test).
I'm interested in how national testing impacts both teaching and learning in the classroom so I said, "How can one design an international assessment that doesn't entice people to focus on the test rather than student learning?" To many this question seems ridiculous, but as a teacher, I assure you, it is not. Mandated testing has the tendency to direct teaching away from what a child needs to learn, toward what is required to do well on the multiple choice test.
If a teacher is being evaluated on how well students score on a mandated test, of course the teacher will focus their teaching on reaching those goals. In contrast, if a teacher is being evaluated on how well the students learn to solve problems, the teacher will help students learn the processing skills to solve problems. As one Finnish student said about taking classes in the United States, "It seemed odd to come to school (in the U.S.) where I didn't have to produce anything; all I had to do was choose from a list of answers."
Andreas believes it is possible to combine learning with authentic assessment and so far I think he has been successful. Now that the international competition is in full swing because of the PISA test, I'm not so sure that countries won't be out trying to beat the system. I hope Andreas and the OECD are able to continue creating metrics to help all schools improve, and I hope it's done so that students achieve more, not less, in the process. Andreas' intent is to achieve better education for all students; I sincerely hope he is able to do so.