The American Public Education System has turned to a test based system in which learning is only illustrated through the performance on standardized tests. Meanwhile the education professionals who set up this system continue to wonder why students struggle to perform well on these tests.
Recently, The University of Rhode Island hosted Pasi Sahlberg, an internationally known Finnish scholar, as part of their series entitled, "Great Public Schools: Everyone's Right? Everyone's Responsibility?" The Finnish system is one that is heralded worldwide as the standard by which others should be measured... and though they do not stress standardized testing the way we do... they outperform us.
Sahlberg argued that the United States is asking the wrong question. Instead of, "What will help students succeed in today's economy?" we should be asking, "What will encourage students to be active participants in a democracy and what will make them be lifelong learners?" Their philosophy includes stressing the arts, sports, and humanities to the same degree as math and science.
So what of testing? In Finland there is no formal, standardized testing until age 18... students are not even officially graded until grade 5. The Finish government plays a very small role in the education system and instead relies almost completely on the teachers. In order to do this, their teachers are chosen from the top performers in college, and teachers must complete a rigorous five year master's program. He also argued that it is insane to make public schools compete for federal dollars... the money should go where it is needed most, not to the school which performs better on a test.
There are many other fundamental differences in the Finnish system as compared to the American... and if we are really going to address our educational issues we must first stop testing students to death...