By John Sener
Upon further consideration, I’ve decided to join the crowd and embrace the common wisdom about PISA, SAT, and other standardized test results. What changed my mind was when I realized how awesomely powerful the principles that drive the acceptance of these results really are. You see, simply by applying them, I can prove to you that I am a better basketball player than Michael Jordan.
Don’t laugh. I have the test results. Some time ago I saw something online somewhere which showed MJ participating in a friendly free throw shooting contest. He made 16 out of 20. Pretty good, but I figured I could do better. So I went out to my local gym and practiced and practiced and practiced until, finally, I achieved my aim: I made 18 out of 20! There was a witness who could vouch for me. I’ll send you the video if you like. (Or you could do what most people do with PISA scores and simply take my word for it.)
It’s not a fair comparison, you say? But that’s what’s so great about this — all you have to do is apply the same rules we apply to judging PISA scores, and it’s perfectly fair:
- You say it needs to be a head-to-head competition? But PISA’s not a head-to-head competition. The students take the tests at different times in different places under different conditions. Heck, they take the reading test in different languages.
- You say I took it far more seriously? What makes you think that American students take PISA tests or scores seriously? When I tested my teenage son’s knowledge of the PISA exam, he looked at me quizzically — not surprising since he’d never heard of it. Now, the SAT test we take very seriously. In fact, I just shelled out a sizable chunk of change for an SAT prep class. But that test has actual personal consequences attached to it, however tangential or dubious they might be. So seriousness matters.
- I had an unfair amount of practice, you say? Do you really believe that every student who takes the PISA has the same amount of practice? I earned my superior results through a laser-like, focused effort on the defined task at hand — free throw excellence.
- You say I’m not capable of replicating my results? No one asks PISA test takers to replicate their test results; they simply accept them and the rankings they imply. So if the US is #23 or #45 or whatever it is in the PISA rankings, then I’m above MJ in the basketball rankings.
You may question my results based on the notion that there’s a lot more to being a basketball player than shooting free throws. That’s the beauty of it — there’s a lot more to learning and education, too, but it doesn’t matter. So what if MJ can dribble, pass, shoot, rebound, defend, penetrate and dish, run the floor, or do lots of other skills so much better? Standardized tests don’t measure most skills either, yet opinion leaders and policymakers constantly tell us how America’s education is going down the toilet based on those scores. So how important could those other skills really be?
You may question my superiority based on the fact that MJ can do creative feats on the court that I can’t even dream of. But there is no place in standardized tests for creativity so it doesn’t matter. You may be curious about whether or not I actually followed the rules to achieve my reported results, or question whether or not the free throw competition I described even exists. You would be wise to ask these questions even though standardized tests don’t care about curiosity either.
But whatever you do, don’t question the value of my rankings — because then you might have to question the value of other rankings like PISA, and goodness knows it’d be foolish to think that MJ could possibly be a better player than me after considering the definitive, quantitative evidence that I’ve given you. After all, free throws are the perfect measure of basketball attainment — they’re rigorous, objective, and easy to score. They’re the same for everyone regardless of gender, race, or nationality. They can be used to compare individuals, teams, schools, states, even nations. (I figure my free throw shooting percentage puts me in the top five of developed nations worldwide.) Most of all, they often make the difference between winning and losing — and we want to be winners in the ever-more fiercely competitive global arena, don’t we?
So the next time the U.S. basketball team fails to win an Olympic gold medal or world championship, instead of doing silly things like finding the right coach or more dedicated players, I have a much better idea. Let’s launch GAFSP — the Great American Foul Shooting Program. Every 4th, 8th, and 12th grader will be required to practice free throw shooting daily until we know through continual assessment that our basketball superiority is forever secure. We’ll pattern it on No Child Left Behind — you know the drill. No allowing for “pushouts” this time around, though. Our reputation as the world’s Greatest Basketball Power is too precious to squander by failing to fix this problem.
And don’t be sidetracked by sideshows such as dunking phenom Jacob Tucker with his 50″ vertical leap. Everybody knows that dunking is not a good measure of overall basketball ability since it depends on genetic good fortune and individual talent brought to fruition by hard work. How could his dunking prowess possibly compare to the value demonstrated by superior performance on a standardized test?
Of course, my ultimate goal is to have the world accept my superior basketball prowess uncritically and unquestioningly so I can use this to my economic advantage. I might even start my own spin-off company to teach others how to attain these lofty results using the latest technology-enabled methods — instructional videos, online materials and support, maybe even a little scripted curriculum thrown in for good measure. Can’t be too careful about achieving consistent results, you know. So if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to spread my “I Rule Hoops” meme as far and as wide as I can — Tucker’s YouTube video has gone viral, and I have a bit of catching up to do…
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