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American students lag on global exam

Published: 12/4/13 @ 12:00


Associated Press

WASHINGTON

American students once again lag behind many of their Asian and European peers on a global exam, a continuing trend that often is blamed on child poverty and a diverse population in U.S. schools.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan called the results a “picture of educational stagnation” as U.S. students showed little improvement over three years, failing to score in the top 20 on math, reading or science.

Students in Shanghai, China’s largest city, had the top scores in all subjects, and Singapore, South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong students weren’t far behind. Even Vietnam, which had its students participate for the first time, had a higher average score in math and science than the United States.

These results again raise the question of whether the United States is consistently outperformed because of the widely varied backgrounds of its students. Some are from low-income households, for example. Others don’t have English as their primary language.

But some countries that outperform the United States also experience such challenges.

“Americans have got a thousand reasons that one country after another is surpassing our achievement, and I have yet to find a good excuse,” said Marc Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy.

About half a million students in 65 nations and educational systems took part in the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, which is coordinated by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD.

Most results come from a sampling of scores from countries as a whole, but in China it was given in select regions.

The Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics released the results. The test, given every three years to 15-year-olds, is designed to assess students’ problem-solving skills.

U.S. scores on the PISA haven’t changed much since testing started in 2000, even as students in countries such as Ireland and Poland have shown improvement and surpassed U.S. students.

Irish Education Minister Ruairi Quinn said the results reflected improvements among Ireland’s lower-achieving students, even as the country’s top students underperformed compared with those in other countries.

In Britain, scores were about the same as three years ago, prompting debate about why the country has not improved despite increased spending on education. The nation did better than the United States in math and science but was not among the top performers in any subject.

One indicator of performance is how many students hit a high benchmark on each subject tested. In the United States, 9 percent of test-takers hit that mark in math, 7 percent did so in science and 8 percent did in reading. Fewer U.S. test-takers hit that mark in math than the international average. However, they performed at about the international average in the other two subjects.