The results of a recent international achievement exam are in, and it looks like American high school students didn’t fare well compared to their international counterparts: 15-year-olds in the U.S. made no progress in achievement and “slipped from 25th to 31st in math since 2009; from 20th to 24th in science; and from 11th to 21st in reading,” according to the results.
The scores from 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) are about even with countries like Norway, Portugal, Italy, Spain, and Russia and have remained flat for more than a decade. American students typically “hover at the average for countries in the OECD except in math,” where Americans fall behind the curve. Students in Singapore, Finland, and South Korea scored above the international average this year.
Experts note, however, that “differences in socioeconomic and racial composition among countries” could account for some of the disparity in scores. “The U.S., for example, has more children living in poverty than do many other industrialized countries, and 15% of the variance in test scores can be explained by socioeconomic status, according to the OECD analysis,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
“This is a reality at odds with our aspiration to have the best-educated, most-competitive workforce in the world,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement, calling the results “a picture of educational stagnation.” The Obama administration has encouraged states to embrace the Common Core standards — developed by The National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers — for children in kindergarten through high school and poured federal dollars into helping states develop common tests. The standards establish the reading and math skills that students should learn at each grade level, but don’t prescribe a curriculum or day-to-day lesson plans.
Conservative lawmakers and Tea Party activists have begun portraying the program as a “federal takeover” of education, leading Alabama, Michigan, Florida, and Indiana to inch away from the standards and the assessments that will accompany them starting in 2014.
The Common Core focuses on developing students’ critical thinking skills and eschew memorization of facts, while the PISA exams “attempt to measure how well 15-year-olds in public and private schools can apply their knowledge to solve problems.”