China’s new education reform: Reducing importance of test scores

China just began a major education reform effort that is aimed at reducing the importance of standardized testing in determining school quality and including factors such as student engagement, boredom, anxiety, and happiness. It also seeks to cut back on the amount of school work students are given. As scholar Yong Zhao notes in the following post, the approach is the opposite of the education reform path in the United States, which in recent years has increased the importance of test scores for accountability purposes.

Chinese documents explaining the reason for the reform are remarkable, noting that the obsession with test scores “severely hamper student development as a whole person, stunt their healthy growth, and limit opportunities to cultivate social responsibilities, creative spirit, and practical abilities in students.”

Yong Zhao is the presidential chair and associate dean for global education at the University of Oregon’s College of Education, where he also serves as the director of the Center for Advanced Technology in Education, and is a fellow of the International Academy for Education. This appeared on his blog.

By Yong Zhao

The Chinese Ministry of Education has just launched another major reform effort to reduce the importance of testing in education. In a document sent to all provincial education authorities on June 19th, the Ministry of Education unveiled guidelines and a new framework for evaluating schools.

China has engaged in numerous systemic reforms over the last few decades, with the goal to minimize the impact of testing on teaching and learning. “However, due to internal and external factors, the tendency to evaluate education quality based simply on student test scores and school admissions rate has not been fundamentally changed,” says the document. “These problems [of evaluation] severely hamper student development as a whole person, stunt their healthy growth, and limit opportunities to cultivate social responsibilities, creative spirit, and practical abilities in students.”

To solve these problems, the Ministry of Education realizes that more serious reforms are needed to change how schools are evaluated.

Dubbed “green evaluation,” the new evaluation framework attempt to end the use of test scores and success rates of sending students to higher-level schools as the only measure of education quality. Instead, it drastically broadens the scope of indicators. The framework includes five areas:

  1. Moral Development indicated by Behaviors and Habits, Citizenship, Personality and Character, and Ambition and Beliefs.
  2. Academic Development indicated by Knowledge and Skills, Discipline Thinking, Application Abilities, and Creativity.
  3. Psychological and Physical Health indicated by Physical Fitness, Healthy Living Habits, Artistic and Aesthetic Taste, Emotional Health and Self-regulation, and Interpersonal Communication (social skills).
  4. Development of Interest and Unique Talents indicated by Curiosity, Unique Talent and Skills, and Discovery and Development of Potentials.
  5. Academic Burdens indicated by Amount of Study Time (e.g. class time, homework time, and time for sleep etc.), Quality of Instruction, Difficult Level of Classes, and Academic Pressure.

The overall idea is to reduce the importance of test scores and academic burden. It is quite interesting to see that schools are to be evaluated based on how much academic burden they put on students.

By the way, it is just the opposite of what the United States and some other Western countries are trying to do—the more burden (long school days, too much homework time, etc.) the school puts on students, the worse the school will be judged. Student engagement, boredom, anxiety, and happiness will also be used as measures of education quality.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss | June 25, 2013