Why did Finland kick our ass?
The Finnish comprehensive school is not only a system. It is also a matter of pedagogical philosophy and practice. An essential part of this philosophy is the principle of equity, on which Finnish education policy has been largely premised.
Efforts have accordingly been made to provide all population groups and regions of the country with equal educational opportunities. The findings of PISA (the OECD's Program for International Student Assessment) show that Finnish comprehensive schools have built up key competencies which are both high quality and also of high equality.
One of the most interesting findings of PISA, therefore, is the one indicating that in Finland the gap between high and low performers is relatively narrow. It is most encouraging that high quality and high equality of educational outcomes can go together -- so it is not either/or, it can be both/and....
...As a rule, in PISA testing, countries with greater degrees of school autonomy, including Finland, attained higher average levels of student performance than those with lower levels of school autonomy. A high degree of school and teacher autonomy in decision-making may thus be assumed to have been one decisive factor contributing to Finland's high performance in PISA.
In Finnish culture, the profession of teacher has been seen as one of the most important professions of society. Teachers have been trusted to do their best as true professionals of education. Teachers carry out assessment in their respective subjects on the basis of objectives written into the curriculum.
In Finland, the role of teacher-based assessment is all the more important because at Finnish comprehensive schools students are not assessed by any national tests or examinations upon completing school or during the school years. Finnish education authorities do not like any ranking list of schools although the mass media is interested in these lists.
This has always struck me as one of the most curious features not only of NCLB but of most state assessment systems: teachers are judged on student performance. But a 6th grade teacher didn't teach his students for the 11 or 12 years of their lives before they got to him. He didn't raise them, read to them, teach them phonics or arithmetic. Why not test the teacher's knowledge? Apparently, Finland doesn't test students at all except for international rankings, and in those, they dominate. Conclusion: more testing does not equal more learning. Knowledgeable teachers will improve student learning.