Whether or not anyone holds stock in the latest international testing results that show American teenagers just maintaining or struggling when it comes to reading, science and math, it is hard to argue the need to ensure our children are prepared to compete on a global scale.
The 2012 Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA results have recently been released and they show just how poorly 15-year-olds fared against competition around the world.
Our students failed to measure up against the best of the best – which, in this case, included students in Shanghai, Singapore and other Asian provinces or countries. U.S. teenagers scored slightly above average in reading. Their scores were average in science and below average in math, compared with 64 other countries and economies that participated in the testing, administered last fall.
These figures have been consistent since PISA was first administered in 2000.
There are well-respected individuals who take issue with this international test and argue that such testing has been around for decades, proving very little.
In her blog, Diane Ravitch, former assistant secretary of education under President George H.W. Bush, points out that “The U.S. has never been first in the world, nor even near the top, on international tests. Over the past half century, our students have typically scored at or near the median, or even in the bottom quartile.” Ravitch argues that “students who think differently get lower scores.”
A report on the release of the PISA scores that appeared in the Washington Post, written by Richard Rothstein, research associate at the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit organization, and Martin Carnoy, education professor at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education, details why the authors believe the U.S. Education Department is attempting to inform the public while also trying “to manipulate public opinion.”
Even still, it is difficult to turn away from international test scores that show American students lagging so far behind. Parents who rail against the Common Core standards are condemning their kids in a world that’s become smaller and more competitive. The current system may need changing, but the fact is that our students need to do better. The old standards don’t work anymore.
How poorly did our students perform?
Shanghai dominated the exam. Its students maintained the top slot in reading, math and science. It is worth noting, too, that China has begun backing off a system that many feel is too intense for students.
Germany, Poland and Vietnam were among several countries that made significant improvements in their test scores, while Finland, which had been at the top for several exams, dropped.
The test is administered every three years by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. It is designed to show whether students can apply what they’ve learned in school to real-life problems. In the United States, 6,000 randomly selected students of the same age at 161 schools took the exam.
The United States scored below many other countries. But perhaps more alarming is the low number of top performers – students who can develop “models for complex situations, and work strategically using broad, well-developed thinking and reasoning skills.” Only 2 percent of U.S. teenagers made the top grade in math. Thirty-one percent reached that level in Shanghai and the OECD average was 3 percent.
Wide-ranging demographics could not explain student performance in countries such as Vietnam, where 79 percent of students are economically disadvantaged and still managed to outscore U.S. students in math.
The results offer parents a good reason not to flatly dismiss the worth of the Common Core standards, which could help propel their children to the level where they can better compete on a global platform.