When the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) results -- frequently referred to as "The Nation's Report Card" -- were released earlier this month, headlines focused on U.S. student progress in math and reading. Unfortunately, a more significant data point garnered less attention -- more than half of our country's fourth and eighth graders are not performing at "proficient" or adequate levels in these subjects. In fact, only 42 percent of fourth graders and 35 percent of eighth graders were proficient in mathematics; just as alarming, 35 percent of fourth graders and 36 percent of eighth graders were proficient in reading. Sadly, the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) results released just this week for 21 districts across the country produced similar results and show staggering gaps between white and minority students.
While it is true that overall we saw improvement nationally -- a one percent increase in average math scores for fourth and eighth graders and two percent increase in average reading scores for eighth graders between 2011 and 2013 -- we are missing the bigger picture. As a nation, we cannot be satisfied with incremental improvements in national rankings and the percentage of students who are performing at a "basic" level of achievement on a standardized test. Improving test scores will not singularly improve the United States' global competitiveness.
To address this challenge we must revolutionize what we teach, how we teach and how we measure the results. Fundamental and rapid change is necessary -- now, not sometime in the future. Solving our nation's education crisis will take commitment and investment in proven approaches to project-based learning. We have to convert our thinking from maximizing content coverage and "teaching to the test" to using methods that help students understand the applications of what they learn. We must help students develop problem solving, critical thinking and collaboration skills -- skills that will prepare them to compete in the global economy.
I fundamentally believe that the ways in which we train teachers and engage students will improve outcomes -- economic and employment outcomes, not just test scores. We must engage students' minds while inspiring their interest in STEM subjects through hands-on learning and real-world problem solving. When students understand how their education is relevant to their lives, careers and the world around them, they get excited and want to learn and apply more.
In the end, it's not about turning more students into test takers -- it's about building tomorrow's problem solvers, entrepreneurs, and innovators. We need to have higher expectations for ourselves as educators, parents, and policymakers; and we need to have higher expectations for our students -- they will meet the bar wherever it is set. Because even if we have students who test better, does that mean that we will grow a nation that leads the way in innovation, productivity and creativity?
We cannot just test students, we have to inspire them.
Project Lead The Way is the nation's leading provider of STEM education programs for students in elementary, middle, and high school. Through world-class curriculum, high-quality teacher professional development, and a network of business and educational leaders, PLTW is preparing students for the global economy.