Home > Uncategorized > “Baby PISA” Standardized Tests Support Global Education Reform Movement, Reinforce Status Quo, End Childhood

“Baby PISA” Standardized Tests Support Global Education Reform Movement, Reinforce Status Quo, End Childhood

I read the last sentence of the first paragraph of Mercy College professor Helge Wasmuth’s recent essay on the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) latest brainchild— a standardized assessment for preschoolers— and felt cold shiver.

Have you heard of Baby PISA? If not, you are in good company, as little information has been shared with the global early childhood community about the latest venture of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Unfortunately, it is a fait accompli.

It is a fait accompli because it is now a part of OECD’s widely publicized test battery called the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA. For the past 15 years the PISA results have been used as part of the “reform” movements arsenal to “prove” the ineffectiveness of public education. What the PISA tests have really proven, though, is that demographics and ZIP codes matter, especially in our country where there is wide disparity in spending on schools and the demographics between districts. Typically administered in 5th, 8th, and 11th grades, OECD is now planning to expand PISA to preschoolers through the use of something called the “International Early Learning and Child Well-Being Study.or IELS.They have encountered some pushback in their efforts, though. As Wasmuth reports, some countries have decided to withhold their support:

While the original plan called for participation by three to six countries in the northern and southern hemispheres, a number of early childhood communities have already successfully registered protest, urging their governments to abstain. (Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Norway, New Zealand, Sweden, and Denmark are among them.) The only outliers are England—Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are not taking part—and the United States.

And Wasmuth also notes that there is virtually no support among early childhood educators,who find the assessments intrusive on the instructional process, worthless in terms of informing instruction, and likely to result in the lockstep standardization that PISA values.

The impact on our field will be disastrous—maybe not immediately, but soon enough. OECD is a powerful and influential institution. Everyone should be clear about their goals of creating a common framework with benchmarks and assessing learning outcomes.  Early childhood education will be reduced to what can be measured: literacy and numeracy.

Ultimately, the field will fall even deeper into the clutches of GERM.  Many countries will feel compelled to do well on the IELS, and the easiest way to do that is to align the curricula to what is measured. Pedagogical compliance will follow, along with teaching to the test—especially in countries, such as the U.S., with many private providers of early education, who will use their outcomes to win new customers. As in the case of the Common Core, a new market will be created, “Aligned to IELS” the new trademark.

The quest for predictable outcomes leaves no place for the hallmarks of early childhood—for uncertainty, experimentation,  surprise, amazement, context, subjective experiences.  OECD values and measures what can be measured, but not necessarily what is important.

In short, the use of standardized assessments will reinforce the status quo in schooling by linking educational outcomes to age cohorts and using the bell curve created when normative assessments are designed to sort and select students at an early age. And the end result of this assessment will be a further diminishment of childhood.

All of the above is inevitable if we do not resist. We must widely discuss the IELS and critically follow its implementation. We must protect childhood’s unpredictable, unique, and wondrous nature—before it’s too late.

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