Every three years since 2000, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has conducted a survey aimed at evaluating education systems. And every three years, education leaders from the United States bemoan the low ranking scored by U.S. students.
This year is no different.
The PISA survey is a paper-based test taken by 15-year-old students. The test is a mixture of open-ended and multiple-choice questions in the areas of reading, mathematics and science. To further analyze causative factors affecting test scores, students and school principals are given questionnaires to provide information about students’ backgrounds, schools, learning experiences, learning environments and the broader school system.
According to the latest PISA, U.S. teenagers were average in reading and science when compared to their international peers. Their scores in math, however, were below average compared to 64 other countries that participated in the 2012 PISA. While the actual scores of U.S. teenagers have not changed significantly during the last decade, other students – particularly in Shanghai, Singapore and other Asian countries – have made significant progress.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan called the scores a “brutal truth” that “must serve as a wake-up call” for the country. The test scores have stoked the fires of controversy on how to best reform the American educational system. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, stated that “[w]hile the intentions may have been good, a decade of top-down, test-based schooling created by No Child Left Behind…has failed to improve the quality of American public education.”
What is perhaps most concerning is the statistical distribution of U.S. student scores. In mathematics, only 2 percent of U.S. students were top performers, compared to 25 percent of U.S. students who tested at the lowest level of proficiency. Interestingly, U.S. students, when asked about their own math skills, displayed higher levels of confidence than their international peers.
The oft-blamed culprit for low scores is the high child poverty rate in the U.S. compared to other industrialized nations. The survey contradicts the poverty assumption, since students in countries like Vietnam, where 79 percent of students are economically disadvantaged, outperformed U.S. students. The report suggests that weak U.S. curriculum is the likely culprit behind lagging U.S. test scores.
To read the report, go to: http://www.oecd.org/pisa/keyfindings/pisa-2012-results.htm