Education policymakers in the U.S. seem to think that more tests will produce higher achievement, but there is no evidence for this assumption. As this article from the Center on International Education Benchmarking shows, the U.S. tests more frequently than any of the world’s high-performing nations.

Jackie Kraemer writes:

“Unlike the top-performing countries on the 2012 PISA, the United States stands out for the amount of external testing it requires for all students. As the chart below shows, the United States is the only country among this set to require annual testing in primary and middle schools in reading and mathematics. A more typical pattern among the top-performers is a required gateway exam, or an exam that allows a student to move on to the next phase of education, at the end of primary school, the end of lower secondary school and the end of upper secondary school. This is true of Canada (Ontario), China (Shanghai), Estonia, Poland and Singapore. In some of these cases, the secondary school exams are used to determine placement in the next level of schooling such as in Singapore and Shanghai where the lower school-leaving exam determines placement in upper secondary school. And in Poland, Shanghai and Singapore the upper secondary academic exam functions as an admission exam for university. This differs from the United States where annual tests are used primarily for school and teacher accountability purposes.”

“How tests are used is also different among the high performers. South Korea and Japan test only for diagnostic purposes in the primary schools, and South Korea continues to test for diagnostic purposes through 10th grade. It is at the secondary level that they introduce the high stakes exams for students, with Japanese students required to take an entrance exam for upper secondary school and students in both countries required to take tests at the end of upper secondary school that will determine what kind of higher education institution they can enter. These tests are recognized as very high pressure for students and both countries are trying to address that issue. In both Korea and Japan, some students enter a vocational training system at the upper secondary level and take tests to qualify for vocational credentials rather than the tests for entry into university.

“Hong Kong and Finland have no required testing until the end of upper secondary school. Taiwan is a bit of a hybrid, with no required testing in primary school, but a Basic Competency Test at the end of lower secondary (along with three required tests a year in each of three subjects during lower secondary) that determines admission to upper secondary school.”

We can’t test our way to success. The more time devoted to testing, the less time available for instruction. tests are best usedfor diagnostic purposes. tests with stakes attached are delayed in these nations until secondary schools. We should learn from the leaders of the pack.