Education Reform International Standardized Testing

China’s Opportunity Gap

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I don’t know how I missed this article when it appeared in The New York Times. It was written by Helen Gao, and it supports what Yong Zhao has written about the highly inegalitarian consequences of China’s test-driven culture.

Whenever you hear someone talking about high standards and rigorous exams as drivers of equity, please question that assumption. Please understand that standards and tests are meant to discriminate among those at the top and those who are not. They do not raise test scores, they measure the ability to answer test questions correctly. The haves dominate the top, while the children of have-nots cluster at the bottom. This is true on every standardized test in every nation. Gradations in test scores will determine the future for many.

She writes that the best and the brightest students are admitted to two elite universities:

“They are destined for bright futures: In a few decades, they will fill high-powered positions in government and become executives in state banks and multinational companies. But their ever-expanding career possibilities belie the increasingly narrow slice of society they represent. The percentage of students at Peking University from rural origins, for example, has fallen to about 10 percent in the past decade, down from around 30 percent in the 1990s. An admissions officer at Tsinghua University told a reporter last year that the typical undergraduate was “someone who grew up in cities, whose parents are civil servants and teachers, go on family trips at least once a year, and have studied abroad in high school.”

“China’s state education system, which offers nine years of compulsory schooling and admits students to colleges strictly through exam scores, is often hailed abroad as a paradigm for educational equity. The impression is reinforced by Chinese students’ consistently stellar performance in international standardized tests. But this reputation is built on a myth.

“While China has phenomenally expanded basic education for its people, quadrupling its output of college graduates in the past decade, it has also created a system that discriminates against its less wealthy and well-connected citizens, thwarting social mobility at every step with bureaucratic and financial barriers.

“A huge gap in educational opportunities between students from rural areas and those from cities is one of the main culprits. Some 60 million students in rural schools are “left-behind” children, cared for by their grandparents as their parents seek work in faraway cities. While many of their urban peers attend schools equipped with state-of-the-art facilities and well-trained teachers, rural students often huddle in decrepit school buildings and struggle to grasp advanced subjects such as English and chemistry amid a dearth of qualified instructors.”

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