Are Students in China really More Stressed than US Students?

Sure, China is infamous for hours of homework, and the two famous dual-testing graduation/entrance exams, the zhong kao and the gao kao. I’ve seen this in my own school, and I’m a tad nervous about my children entering the first grade when homework ramps up.  But the stress on the environment of learning might be a bit overrated, at least for the stress produced by the zhong kao. I’m revising my earlier opinions on the gao kao, (expressed on a different platform), and taking prerogative to reserve judgment until I’m able to observe and interview high school teachers at my school.

These tests of course add stress to students, but is there a good school system that has absolutely no testing and no stress for students?

And before we continue, let me be clear, although Chinese students do have summative assessments, high and low stakes standardized testing in the US is different than school-specific testing in China. Standardized tests are based on standards teachers should have been able to teach, while school-specific testing is a summative assessment of what students should have learned based on what teachers actually taught in class. Teachers in both the US and China utilize summative assessments, called quizzes, papers, tests and exams.  Each have different values of their stakes.

The majority of in-school-given examinations, (unit tests, final exams), are not standardized across the nation.  They are either district specific or school specific.  The zhong kao falls under district specific, and students in my school can choose where they take their zhong kao in Beijing, (they choose based on where they want to go for high school).  No student at my school has failed a zhong kao examination of their choice and all have been able to attend the first or second choice high school.  If teachers are preparing students well for the test, and students do have choice in the district they pick, the stress seems manageable to me as an outsider.  Students in my school seem to enjoy their classes and their learning experiences. In addition, teachers frequently teach “above” the standards of the zhong kao examinations.

Then, for Chinese students, time spent on national/district standardized testing is limited to the zhong kao in their entire primary and middle school career. The gao kao is the next standardized test, other than the international testing for data comparison, but that doesn’t seem to be high-stakes to schools or students.  (Our international preparatory program has one standardized test in 10th grade, currently the only high school grade we have). This is very different than in the US, where kindergarten students lose 95 hours of school time, and in Florida, 80 days out of 180 days (Neason, 2015). Students and teachers lose half a school year!

Has anyone thought that China is able to do so well on international data testing tests because they’re not wasting instructional time on ambiguous data collection?

One interesting note made by Ben Kleban, the founder and CEO of New Orleans College Prep, “administrators at the network are currently re-evaluating whether testing is taking up too much class time. But he adds that it’s hard to imagine a good school that doesn’t collect this kind of data,” (Neason, 2015).

in the era of khan

Agreed, but why does this data collection have to be through standardized testing? Why can’t it be through standardized game play that can be completed throughout the year? Then the data collection is both of learning and for learning. This type of structure would allow students to learn while data is being collected. In the era of Khan academy, data collection doesn’t need to be a fight between instructional time and standardized test-taking time.  Technology can bring a win-win.  The less money that’s spent on developing and administering paper based tests, the more that educational money can be pumped into classroom technology tools that can be used other than for data collection.

Anyways, here’s how China and the US compare in standardized testing for K3-K5 (top) and middle school (below).

China vs. US standardized testing kindergarten


Middle School Stats

US to China Standardized Testing ComparisonAlthough Chinese parents frequently want to seek better educational opportunities for their children in the west, these stats might make them reconsider the US as their golden opportunity.

If Chinese schools aren’t going through frequent standardized testing to maintain their fabulous, international test scores, how can policymakers and test developers make a legitimate case that frequent standardized testing contributes to better test scores?  Between the two countries, there are huge differences in society that could potentially be more of an answer. First, in China, students and parents take schoolwork seriously.  Education is the way to a bright future. Secondly, teachers are respected in China, significantly more, in my opinion, than in the States.  Another huge difference, there are far less immigrants to China.  English language learners in the States of course are not capable of performing as well in their second language as Chinese students on Chinese exams.

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Mora, R. (2011). “School is So Boring”: High-Stakes Testing and Boredom at an Urban Middle School. Retrieved December 21, 2015, from

Musoleno, R., & White, G. (2010). Influences of High-Stakes Testing on Middle School Mission and Practice. Retrieved December 21, 2015, from

Neason, A. (2015, March 4). High-Stakes Testing Has Trickled All the Way Down to Kindergarten. Retrieved December 21, 2015, from

Smollin, M. (2011, June 27). Is Standardized Testing for Preschoolers a Good Idea? Retrieved December 21, 2015, from

Strauss, V. (2015, November 19). Report: Time spent on standardized testing in schools is underestimated. Retrieved December 21, 2015, from

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