College & Workforce Readiness Letter to the Editor

Researcher: High Test Scores Do Not Lead to Economic Success

September 17, 2013 1 min read
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To the Editor:

Commentary author Nancy Hoffman (“What Happens to Finland’s Well-Educated Young People?,” edweek.org, July 31, 2013) asks an interesting question.

Turns out the answer is nothing good: Ms. Hoffman reports an unemployment rate that exceeds 20 percent among postsecondary Finnish youths, compared with 10 percent less for lower-scoring nations, such as Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. Up to this point Ms. Hoffman has called attention to some interesting facts, but then she goes off the rails, arguing that Finland fails to provide necessary social support to move kids from school to work.

My research has found that the truth is far simpler and more straightforward: High-scoring Finnish students are economic failures because high test scores, contrary to the pervasive myth, have a strong negative correlation with national economic success. If you want to build a successful economy, the last thing you want is high student test scores.

To briefly summarize my research on the relationship between test scores and national economic success, I took the first three international tests, given between 1964 and 1980, and looked at how they affected nine different measures of subsequent national economic success in 2005 and 2009. In every case, low test scores beat high scores.

While I did not include youth unemployment among the multiple economic-success indicators I looked at over more than 40 years of national economic performance, the results Ms. Hoffman reports—high scores followed by economic disaster in youth unemployment when compared with lower-scoring nations—is fully consistent with my findings that high test scores lead to future national economic failure.

Keith Baker

Heber City, Utah

The author, now retired, was a policy analyst and researcher at the U.S. Department of Education.

A version of this article appeared in the September 18, 2013 edition of Education Week as Researcher: High Test Scores Do Not Lead to Economic Success


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