For all the emphasis in Florida on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, an international test of 15-year-olds administered here for the first time provides a far more compelling and sobering snapshot of why the state needs to push past pressure group politics to fully embrace Common Core standards.
The Program for International Student Assessment is a test of math, reading and science given to 15-year-olds in 65 countries and large educational systems. It is sponsored by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and has been given every three years since 2000. Fifteen-year-olds are tested because they, on average in these nations, are at the end of their basic education. And the test asks students to do the kinds of things a successful citizen must be able to manage after graduation from high school to be productive members of modern society.
U.S. students have typically tested about in the middle since 2000, and they did so again in 2012, based on the results released Dec. 3. They hovered around the OECD average in every subject — a weak result for the world's largest economy and a nation that spends more than nearly anyone else on education.
The news is worse for Florida. In each nation or educational system, a representative sample of students takes the test, and this time three states — Florida, Massachusetts and Connecticut — enlarged their sample sizes and paid to have their individual state results broken out and compared with the world. Florida, the epicenter for high-stakes testing, performed below the U.S. average in every subject. In other words, America is pretty mediocre, and Florida is worse.
PISA is not a high-stakes test like the FCAT. Teacher evaluations aren't based on it. Students don't pass or fail depending on their scores.
But it is important to see what this first-ever international comparison is saying to the Sunshine State: Our 15-year-olds took the same test as students from dozens of other systems and, in short, they didn't compete. Only 6 percent of the Florida students scored at the highest levels in math, while 30 percent did not achieve even basic competence. That means Florida had fewer high performers and more low performers than did the nation as a whole, which itself did worse than OECD averages on both of those measures.
In analyzing the results, the OECD specifically suggests that "successful implementation of the Common Core standards would yield significant performance gains also in PISA."
PISA doesn't dictate how to teach or how to learn. It simply tests whether students know what they need to — and lists those apple-to-apple results against peers. The same is true of the Common Core standards. It's time to get politics out of the classroom and out of the way of the Common Core. Let teachers and students rise to the clear challenge before them.