Apples:Bananas :: US:Finland?

At first glance, Rick Hess made us laugh yesterday morning with his newest post about his vacation travels that brought him to Finland last month.  Upon a thorough read, though, he brings up a theme of this testing paradox—we want to compare ourselves to other nations, but are test scores the way to go? If not, what other option exists?

Finland has become a buzz word of its own right in the education policy field, eliciting visions of content citizens, high test scores, and career-ready students.  However, Hess argues that we can’t truly compare U.S. PISA scores to Finland’s, as they are playing a whole different game.  He highlights their population size (smaller than the state of Massachusetts), homogenous classrooms, and more stable home life for children—including both a higher percentage of children growing up in a two-parent household and a lower migration rate.  How can we attribute their testing scores to “educational brilliance,” as he calls it, when the schools are seeing a completely different population than we see in the U.S. to begin with?

So we ask, what other method is there—aside from test scores—to compare the U.S.’s educational attainment and progress with that of other nations? And should we even continue comparing in the first place?