## Documents Don't Tell the Story

- those whose students perform well on international tests (for example, France),
- those whose education systems enjoy international esteem (for example, the Netherlands),
- those with a federal structure much like our own (for example, Germany), and
- those representing major economic competitors of the United States (for example, Japan).

*not*meet the standards, and (2) look at student work, which is where one really finds out what is expected of students.

- What is the structure of the education systems in other countries?
- What are students expected to know and be able to do at key junctures in their schooling careers?
- What kinds of performances are used to demonstrate competence?
- What counts as “good enough” in these performances?
- What percentage of the students is meeting the standards?
- What reform efforts are under way or on the horizon?

- There is more than one way to help students achieve excellence.
- To successfully serve a large number and variety of students, schools must work as systems whose parts are focused on coherent, consistent, publicly articulated goals.

## Tracking: Results are Mixed

*Japan*. Japanese schools prefer heterogeneous grouping because it seems to produce higher performance all around: High performing students actually learn more, it is argued, by serving as tutors to their classmates. Further, a central focus of Japanese schools is to help form the moral and cultural character of students. High performance is valued because it contributes to the well-being of the group. In school, this means that students see their own excellence as compromised by another student's failure! One of the standards for all Japanese students, then, is to be a contributing member of an effective work group.

*The Netherlands*. Tracking in the Netherlands is not determined by achievement tests, which are a predominant means of sorting students in the United States. In fact, achievement tests are not used in the Netherlands. Instead, secondary students, in consultation with parents, teachers, and—sometimes—school administrators, choose the track that is most appropriate for them.

*all*students are expected to perform well. Mathematics exams at the conclusion of high school are a case in point: Although students who intend to go on to a university are asked to perform at a more sophisticated level than those who wish to enter the work force, the latter group faces very difficult exams. As Figure 1 shows, these exams involve complex applications of algebra and geometry. Students are also expected to show how they arrived at their answers; there is more than one right way. Dutch educators have been developing a mathematics program geared to helping all students perform well.

- Calculate how many m3 of water are in the swimming pool.

- Calculate the distance between the two signs.

## Curriculums: Common Goals Are Crucial

*France*. France offers the clearest example of this convergence of goals. In texts and exams, the influence of the national curriculum is obvious. For example, a French math text for 16-year-olds begins by spelling out the national curriculum for the year so that all 16-year-olds know what they are expected to study. The book's similar table of contents shows that the text developers referred to the curriculum. Moreover, the text makes frequent references to math exams the regional school districts have given in the past. Students practice on these exams to help them prepare for the exam they will face; they know where to concentrate to meet the standard.

*Sweden*. As in France, the Swedish national curriculum strongly influences texts and exams, giving students a clear message about what is expected. Still, the mathematics exam for Swedish 16-year-olds shows that a clear message, too, can set a low standard (see fig. 2). Unlike its Dutch counterpart, the Swedish exam does not ask for complex mathematical reasoning, but focuses instead on relatively low-skill computation. The lesson here: Unless coherent schooling elements set high academic standards, we can't expect student achievement to rise.

#### Figure 2. Portion of a Swedish Mathematics Exam for 16-year-olds

(PRIM Group of the School Administration for the Stockholm Teacher Training Institute)

Part B. For exercises 12–15, complete solutions must be given. NOTE! If you only give the answer you will get 0 points.

12. What is the price of a piece of ham weighing 6 hg if the price is 150 krona per kilogram?

13. How much is the telephone bill for a quarter of the year if it shows 300 units of use for that time? Each unit costs 23 Öre. In addition, there is a charge of 187 krona per quarter in subscription fees.

## Exams: Upholding Standards

*all*students are performing. After this point, not all students are expected to work to high standards.

*France*. In France, virtually all students attempt to qualify for the

*Brevet*certificate at the end of middle school, and more than 75 percent succeed. This qualification is awarded on two bases: final exams in several subjects, and classroom teachers' continuous assessment during the last two years. The exams differ among the country's 27 regional school districts, but multiple choice is virtually unknown. Students must write essays, argue for positions, and solve problems while giving evidence of their reasoning. Texts and curriculums support these practices. This means that students can prepare for the

*Brevet*, because it reflects the very same skills and knowledge they have been honing in school.

*The Netherlands*. In the Netherlands, all students take high school leaving exams. The final grade is the average of the exam's two parts: one generated nationally, the other compiled by the school. Dutch schools have four tracks and give four corresponding national exams in most subjects. As in France, multiple-choice and short-answer questions are rare.

*Germany*. In Hessen, Germany, however, teachers both compile and grade the exam for their own students. When questioned about the possibility of teachers artificially inflating grades or helping their students cheat, one university professor seemed puzzled. “Why would they cheat,” she asked us, “when they are professionals who care about their work?” This trust in and respect for teachers as professionals is common in countries whose students are noted for excellence.

## What We've Learned

- Setting clear, consistent, demanding, public standards helps students perform well.
- Tracking and grouping practices must make sense in the culture of the school and for both the student's and community's future goals.
- Exams should test what students have been asked to learn, preferably in the same ways they must perform in class.
- Exams that call for complex, demanding tasks can be given to a wide range of students, perhaps to all students.
- As the front-line professionals in the education process, teachers should have much to say about what goes into exams and how they are graded.