‘It Just Isn’t Working’: Test Scores Cast Doubt on U.S. Education Reform

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The Common Core, which began almost a decade ago, has been a national effort by governors, state education chiefs, philanthropists and school reformers to enrich the American curriculum and help students compete with children around the world. Its priorities include increasing the amount of nonfiction reading, writing persuasive essays using evidence drawn from texts and adding conceptual depth in math.

The effort became a political lightning rod, with the left opposing a new generation of standardized tests tied to the Core, and the right seeing the effort as an unwelcome intrusion into local control of schools. Some states that initially signed on to the Core later rejected it.

Even in those places that stuck with the effort, the curricular changes that flowed from the Common Core could be made without necessarily improving the quality of teaching, Professor Koretz said.

He suggested a renewed focus on classroom instruction, and on providing students and families who are poor, or are recent immigrants, with support like social workers and translators.

The most recent PISA test was given in 2018 to 600,000 15-year-olds in 79 education systems around the world, and included both public and private school students. In the United States, a demographically representative sample of 4,800 students from 215 schools took the test, which is given every three years.

Although math and science were also tested, about half of the questions were devoted to reading, the focus of the 2018 exam. Students were asked to determine when written evidence supported a particular claim and to distinguish between fact and opinion, among other tasks.

The top performers in reading were four provinces of China — Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang. Also outperforming the United States were Singapore, Macau, Hong Kong, Estonia, Canada, Finland and Ireland. The United Kingdom, Japan and Australia performed similarly to the United States.

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