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"This December, the latest scores will be released from the Programme for International Student Achievement (PISA), a widely followed international assessment. American press coverage—whether web-based, on television, or in old-fashioned print—will decry the mediocre showing of the U.S. and express astonishment at the performance of China. One problem. China does not take the PISA test. A dozen or so provinces in China take the PISA, along with two special administrative regions (Hong Kong and Macao). But journalists and pundits will focus on the results from one province, Shanghai, and those test scores will be depicted, in much of the public discussion that follows, as the results for China. That is wrong.
Turn back the clock to when the last PISA scores (from the 2009 assessment) were released. About seventy nations participated. Shanghai scored number one in the world in all three subjects on which the PISA tests 15-year-olds – reading literacy, science literacy and math literacy – surpassing the previous top scoring nation, Finland. TIME’s headline declared “China Beats out Finland For Top Marks in Education.” The U.S. scored around the international average. Bloomberg’s headline was “U.S. Teens Lag as China Soars on International Test.” The New York Times almost got it right, warning readers in the second paragraph that Shanghai’s scores are “by no means representative of all of China.” But the remainder of the article treated Shanghai as if it were indeed representative of all of China. American journalists are not the only ones confused. In 2012, the BBC was still imputing China’s academic standing from Shanghai’s PISA scores, asking the provocative question, “China: The World’s Most Clever Country?”"