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AMERICAN FIFTEEN-YEAR-OLDS CONTINUE TO LAG BEHIND INTERNATIONAL PEERS: U.S. Students Perform Below Average in Math and Science, Score at Average in Reading

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"It's more evidence that high standards and accountability for results are a good idea for all schools at all grade levels . . . Many of our high schools are already world-class. However, too many graduates are ill-prepared to succeed in higher education or the workforce."

Fifteen-year-old students in the United States performed below their international peers in mathematics literacy and science literacy, according results from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). In reading literacy, America’s fifteen-year-olds performed at the international average, but their average score dropped on the 2003 assessment.

U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige said the results point to the need for reform of the nation’s high schools. “The PISA results are a blinking warning light,” he said. “It’s more evidence that high standards and accountability for results are a good idea for all schools at all grade levels . . . Many of our high schools are already world-class. However, too many graduates are ill-prepared to succeed in higher education or the workforce.”

PISA, first implemented in 2000 and given every three years, is a system of international assessments that measure fifteen-year-olds’ capabilities in reading literacy, mathematics literacy, and science literacy. While each is studied every three years, one area receives greater attention, involving more items and more detailed results. In 2000, reading literacy was the “major domain”; in 2003, mathematics literacy was the major domain. In 2006, the focus will be on science literacy.1 PISA is sponsored by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental organization of thirty industrialized nations.2 In 2003, these thirty countries, along with eleven other non-OECD countries, participated in PISA.3

In mathematics literacy, American students scored an average of 483, which placed them below the OECD average score of 500, and also below 23 other OECD countries and 3 non-OECD countries. U.S. students also had lower scores than the OECD averages in each of the four math content-area subgroups: space and shape (similar to geometry); change and relationships (similar to algebra); quantity; and uncertainty.

In addition to scores, PISA uses proficiency levels to measure student performance. In mathematics literacy, there are six levels, with six being the highest. The U.S. average score of 483 is at the bottom range of level 3. On average, even the highest-achieving American students (those in the top 10 percent) were outscored by their international peers. As the linked chart shows, the percentages of American students at levels 4, 5, and 6 are all smaller than the OECD average. At the same time, the United States has larger percentages of students at levels 2 and below.

In reading literacy, the average U.S. score was 495, not measurably different from the OECD average of 494 but still below the scores of 16 other countries. In the 2000 assessment, the U.S. average was 504.4. In science literacy, the average U.S. score was 491, lower than the OECD average of 500 and below 21 other countries. In the 2000 assessment, the U.S. average was 499.5.

The complete report, International Outcomes of Learning in Mathematics Literacy and Problem Solving: PISA 2003 Results from the U.S. Perspective, is available at http://www.nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2005003.

Happy Holidays from the Alliance for Excellent Education!

 

The Alliance for Excellent Education wishes you and yours a happy holiday season and a wonderful 2005!

This issue marks the last one before the Alliance newsletter-although not the Alliance staff-settles in for a long winter’s nap. The next issue of Straight A’s will be dated January 17, 2005.

1 – According to Robert Lerner, commissioner of NCES, PISA’s use of the term “literacy” with each of the three subject areas is meant to reflect PISA’s emphasis on applied knowledge and skills in a real-life context, not to report on how well students have mastered a particular curriculum or specific facts or formulas. (Back to article)

2 – Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, and the United States. (Back to article)

3 – Brazil, Hong Kong-China, Indonesia, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Macao-China, Russian Federation, Serbia and Montenegro, Thailand, Tunisia, and Uruguay. (Back to article)

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