The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, which brings the world the international testing program of 15-year old students known as PISA, just issued a new report called “Measuring Innovation in Education: A New Perspective, Educational Research and Innovation.”

Yes, the OECD is measuring innovation in education. There are, of course, innovation metrics for evaluating businesses, but schools aren’t businesses and shouldn’t be operated as if they were. So what exactly constitutes “innovation” in the educational world as viewed by the OECD?

Here’s how the OECD introduces the report on its website here:

Do teachers innovate? Do they try different pedagogical approaches? Are practices within classrooms and educational organisations changing? And to what extent can change be linked to improvements? A measurement agenda is essential to an innovation and improvement strategy in education. Measuring Innovation in Education offers new perspectives on addressing the need for such measurement.

The executive summary of the report starts like this:

The ability to measure innovation is essential to an improvement strategy in education. Knowing whether, and how much, practices are changing within classrooms and educational organisations, how teachers develop and use their pedagogical resources, and to what extent change can be linked to improvements would provide a substantial increase in the international education knowledge base.
Measuring Innovation in Education offers new perspectives to address this need for measurement in educational innovation through a comparison of innovation in education to innovation in other sectors, identification of specific innovations across educational systems, and construction of metrics to examine the relationship between educational innovation and changes in educational

To the OECD then, at least as far as this report, what it determines to be “innovations” are part of educational improvement strategies. So what does the section say is the biggest organizational educational innovation “in policy and practice” in the standardized test-obsessed United States that is supposedly improving school systems? I gave it away: the use of standardized tests to monitor progress, as if standardized tests really do measure student progress. Assessment experts always note that standardized tests measure only a narrow band of a student’s knowledge and skills.

The report says in the section about the United States:

The United States’ top organisational innovation was the use of student assessments for monitoring progress over time. Between 2000 and 2009, the United States saw a 24% point difference in the percentage of 15-year-old students in schools where assessments are used for monitoring progress from year-to-year; as of 2009, over 97% of all American secondary students were enrolled in schools using this practice.

Here are the top five U.S. “innovations in organizational practice and policy”:

1) More use of student assessments for monitoring school progress
2) More use of assessments for national or district benchmarking
3) More use of assessment data to inform parents of student progress
4) More external evaluation of secondary school classrooms
5) More parental service on secondary school committees

And here are the top five U.S. “innovations in pedagogic practice”:

1) More observation and description in secondary school science lessons
2) More individualized reading instruction in primary school classrooms
3) More use of answer explanation in primary mathematics
4) More relating of primary school lessons to everyday life
5) More text interpretation in primary lessons

(Is more of something genuinely innovative?)

Note that none of these mention the use of technology or computers.

How do the U.S. “innovations” compare to other countries and school systems included in the report? You can see for yourself here, but as an example, the top innovation in organizational practice and policy in Hong Kong was “more peer evaluation of teachers in primary and secondary education.” In Korea, the innovation in organizational practice and policy was “more peer evaluation of teachers in secondary education.” In Singapore, it was “more use of incentives for secondary teachers.”

The United States at this point appears to be standing alone in its obsessive use of standardized tests as important measures of accountability in education.

Incidentally, the school system that has come out on top in the last two administrations of the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment  (PISA) is Shanghai, and Shanghai is considered dropping out of PISA. Why? Shanghai officials want to de-emphasize standardized test scores.