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December 3, 2013

Disappointing results from latest international assessment

Results from the 2012 Program for International Assessment (PISA) were released today that compared the reading, mathematics, and science literacy of 15-year olds in 65 countries including the United States. Unfortunately, the overall results were not positive for our nation’s schools. In fact, the U.S. failed to improve on any of the three subjects tested since 2000- the first year PISA was administered. Due to this lack of improvement a greater number of countries outperformed the U.S. in 2012 than did in 2009—the last year PISA was administered—in all three subject areas. In particular, in mathematics the U.S. was significantly outperformed by 29 countries in 2012 compared to 24 countries in 2009. Even in reading where the U.S. has compared much more favorably, U.S. 15-year olds were outperformed by 19 countries in 2012 compared to just 9 countries in 2009.

What the results indicate is that while the U.S. performance remains relatively unchanged, other countries are leapfrogging over the U.S. by making significant gains in reading, mathematics, and science just between 2009 and 2012. These include countries such the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, Poland, and Australia which all have among the highest child poverty rates in the world and all these countries outperformed the U.S. in mathematics.  Certainly, poverty impacts student achievement but the U.S. can learn from these countries on how to more successfully educate poor students. One bright point from the PISA results for the U.S. is that the achievement gap between high and low-socioeconomic status (SES) did narrow slightly between 2009 and 2012. However, even if every other country had a similar SES rate as the U.S. the U.S. performance would actually drop slightly while the performance of many other countries would actually improve. This provides evidence that the mediocre U.S. performance is not simply due to demographics.

While the PISA results are disappointing they are the exception rather than the rule when it comes measuring U.S. performance. On other international assessments such as TIMSS and PIRLS the U.S. has made significant progress over the past decade or so. In fact, in math the U.S. is among the world leaders in gains between 1995 and 2011. The U.S. has also made significant gains on domestic assessments such as NAEP. And the U.S. estimated on-time graduation rate has improved from 67 percent in 2000 to 74 percent in 2010—which is nearly at an all-time high. This makes the lack of improvement on PISA all that more surprising. We need to take a deeper look into PISA data to find out why the U.S. is making such gains on other indicators that are not showing up in PISA. Without knowing the answer to this question limits our ability to use the PISA results to improve our schools.

The Findings

Mathematics Literacy

  • The U.S. score of 481 was significantly lower than the international average* of 496.
  • The U.S. was outperformed by 29 of 64 countries**.
    • Shanghai-China was the highest performing country (613) followed by Singapore (573), Hong-Kong-China (561), Chinese Taipei (560), and Korea (554).
    • The U.S. performed similarly to 9 countries including Norway, Italy, Russia, and Hungry.
    • The U.S. performed significantly better than 26 countries such as Israel (466), Greece (453), Mexico (413), and Brazil (391).
  • Scores for the U.S. have not improved.
    • Scores for the U.S. were similar between 2009 and 2012 as well as between 2000 and 2012.
    • Twenty-nine countries outperformed the U.S. in 2012 compared to 24 countries in 2009.
      • In 2009 Poland, Austria, Ireland, Czech Republic, and United Kingdom performed similarly to the U.S. but outperformed the U.S. in 2012.
  • The U.S. has fewer advanced students and more low performing students than most countries.
    • A smaller percentage of U.S. students (9 percent) scored within the top two PISA achievement levels than the international average (13 percent).
    • Twenty-seven countries had a higher percentage of high performing students. Shanghai-China led the world with more than half (55 percent) reaching these advanced levels followed by Singapore (40 percent), Chinese Taipei (37 percent), Hong Kong-China (34 percent), and Korea (31 percent).
    • The U.S. also had a larger proportion of low-performing students**(26 percent) than the international average (23 percent) and 29 counties had a lower percentage of low-performing students than the U.S.

Science Literacy

  • The U.S. did not score significantly different from the international average of 501.
  • The U.S. was outperformed by 22 of 64 other countries.
    • Shanghai-China was the highest performing country (580) followed by Hong-Kong-China (555), Singapore (551), Japan (547), and Finland (545).
    • The U.S. performed similarly to 13 countries including France, Italy, Norway, and Croatia.
    • The U.S. performed significantly better than 29 countries such as Russia (486), Sweden (485), Mexico (415), and Brazil (405).
  • Scores for the U.S. have not improved.
    • Scores for the U.S. were basically unchanged between 2009 and 2012.
    • The 2012 scores were also similar to the scores in 2000.
    • Twenty-two countries outperformed the U.S. in 2012 compared to 18 countries in 2009.
      • In 2009 Poland, Ireland, and the Czech Republic performed similarly to the U.S. but outperformed the U.S. in 2012.
  • The U.S. has fewer advanced students and more low performing students than most countries.
    • Seven percent of U.S. students scored within the top two PISA achievement levels which is similar to the international average.
    • Seventeen countries had a higher percentage of high performing students than the U.S. Shanghai-China led the world with 27 percent of students reaching these advanced levels followed by Singapore (23 percent), Japan (18 percent), and Finland (17 percent).
    • Twenty-one countries had a lower percentage of low-performing students than the U.S. However, the U.S. had a similar proportion of low-performing students (18 percent) than the international average.

Reading Literacy

  • The U.S. did not score significantly different from the international average of 496.
  • The U.S. was outperformed by 19 of 64 other countries.
    • Just like in mathematics and science Shanghai-China was the highest performing country (570) followed by Hong-Kong-China (545), Singapore (542), Japan (538), and Korea (536).
    • The U.S. performed similarly to 12 countries including France, Italy, United Kingdom, and Israel.
    • The U.S. performed significantly better than 34 countries such as Russia (475), Greece (477), Mexico (424), and Brazil (410).
  • Scores for the U.S. have not improved.
    • Scores for the U.S. were basically unchanged between 2009 and 2012.
    • The 2012 scores were also similar to the scores in 2000.
    • Ten more countries outperformed the U.S. in 2012 than in 2009.
      • In 2009 Poland, Ireland, Estonia, Switzerland, and Germany performed similarly to the U.S. but outperformed the U.S. in 2012.
  • The U.S. has fewer advanced students and more low performing students than most countries.
    • Eight percent of U.S. students scored within the top two PISA achievement levels which is similar to the international average.
    • Fourteen countries had a significantly greater share of high performers with Shanghai-China leading the world with 25 percent followed by Singapore (21 percent), and Japan (18 percent).
    • The U.S. also had a similar proportion of low-performing students (17 percent) than the international average although 14 countries had a higher percentage.

Demographics

  • The U.S. is not uniquely diverse.
    • The U.S. has about the same proportion of ‘disadvantaged’ students as the international average.
    • The U.S. has the 6th largest share of immigrant students.
    • When controlling for the socioeconomic status (SES) of students across countries the U.S. ranking would actually decline compared to other countries.

For more information about PISA and other international assessments of student achievement check out the Center’s More than a horse race: A guide to international tests of student achievement.

 

* The OECD average is used at the international average
** OECD used the term education systems instead of countries.
*** Students who scored below the 2nd PISA achievement level.






One Response to “Disappointing results from latest international assessment”

  1. […] they? This sentiment is so often stated that it is assumed to be fact, especially since the 2012 PISA results were released last December. For example, in a recent Washington Post column Is The U.S. Making the […]

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