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U.S. students fall further behind internationally

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U.S. high school students’ performance in math, science and reading has stalled according to the latest international report.
American 15-year-old students placed 20th in reading, 23rd in science and 30th in mathematics compared to their peers in 65 educational systems included on the latest Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) report released today.
The results show that U.S. students have lost ground against other countries in the last three years. The last time the assessment was done, in 2009, U.S students ranked 10th in reading, 19th in science and 24th in math.
PISA measures reading, math and science literacy and problem-solving abilities among 15-year-old students internationally and is conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
The U.S. scores in all three areas were not measurably different from previous years. In reading and science U.S. students’ performance has hovered both this time and in 2009 around the average for the 34 OECD countries. In math the U.S. scored below the OECD average.
“While we’re standing still, other countries are making progress,” said Jack Buckley, the commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which issued the U.S. report on PISA.
The highest performing students in all three categories were from Shanghai-China. The second through fifth spots all went to Asian nations, with Singapore, Hong Kong, Taipei, Korea and Macao-China and Japan on top.
On a scale of 1 to 1000, Shanghai scored 570 in reading, 580 in science and 613 in math, compared to the U.S. score of 498, 497 and 481. At the bottom was Peru with 384, 373 and 368.
Massachusetts, Florida and Connecticut chose to have their students assessed independently. Massachusetts outperformed all but three countries with a reading score of 527 and Connecticut close behind at 521. Massachusetts and Connecticut had higher average scores than the United States in all three subjects.
Massachusetts’ proportion of highly proficient students was also higher than the US and most nations. In Massachusetts 19 percent scored highly proficient in math (just below 11th place Netherlands), 16 percent were highly proficient in reading (just below 5th place Hong Kong) and 14 percent in science (just below 7th place Australia).
Finland, which gained a reputation for having one of the strongest educational systems when it scored at the top of the PISA between 2002 and 2009, came in 6th in average scores in math in 2012.
Some education experts caution not to read too much into these rankings as socio-economic factors that influence American schools are largely absent in homogenous societies such as China. What’s more, some observers say the Chinese results are skewed. While 12 Chinese provinces took the test, only the results for Shanghai, Macao and Hong Kong were released.
“These kinds of studies are really good at describing where we stand and maybe looking at trends,” said Buckley. “They’re not good at all at telling us why. The study design is not one that supports causal inference.”
The 18 education systems that had higher average scores than the United States in all three subject areas are: Australia, Canada, Chinese Taipei, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hong Kong-China, Ireland, Japan, Liechtenstein, Macao-China, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Republic of Korea, Shanghai-China, Singapore, and Switzerland.

To see the test items yourself go to



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