December 8, 2013

Regarding Fareed Zakaria’s Dec. 6 Washington Forum column, “Reasons to worry about U.S. education”:

Let’s set the record straight about educational testing in the top-performing countries as compared with the United States. Although it has become academic legend that Asian countries fixate on testing, the education systems of top-tiered Asian and other countries are not test-centric, as is that in the United States. As Marc Tucker from the National Center on Education and the Economy has pointed out, no top-ranked nation gives its students more than three standardized exams from kindergarten though 12th grade. These countries see test results as one of many data points to guide improvement. The United States gives a minimum of seven standardized exams, and many more benchmarking exams, in the K-12 years.

However, our problem isn’t just the volume of tests; it’s also how they are used. As the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development said: “While performance data in the United States are often used for purely accountability purposes, other countries tend to give greater weight to using them to guide intervention, reveal best practices and identify shared problems.” If U.S. educators spent less time on test preparation and testing, we could optimize that time for more instruction or for teachers to collaborate and plan lessons — a winning strategy elsewhere. We need to muster the political will to move from failed policies to evidence-based strategies.

Randi Weingarten, Washington

The writer is president of the American Federation of Teachers.