December 3, 2013

U.S. students lagging behind other nations in global testing

Americans never like to view themselves as average when compared with the rest of the world.

Americans never like to view themselves as average when compared with the rest of the world.

And yet when it comes to one of the most important measurements of all — educational achievement — that’s mostly where the U.S. stands, based on results of a highly regarded international test released Tuesday.

Scores in 2012 on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), a global exam given to 15-year-olds every three years, showed that U.S. students ranked below average in math, about average in science and slightly above average in reading, about the same positions American youngsters have had since the exam began in 2000.

While some may consider it good news that students in this country are not going backward, the results indicate that Americans are standing still in this worldwide race while other countries’ participants are running a lot faster.

Referring to the U.S. results as a “picture of educational stagnation,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan, called for investing more in early childhood education, raising academic standards, recruiting and retaining quality educators and making college affordable.

Those are good points, but despite all the statewide and national initiatives to improve education, it’s obvious other countries are doing a better job of preparing students to succeed in the increasingly competitive world market.

The United States didn’t make the top 20 in any of the testing categories. China’s largest city, Shanghai, had the top average scores in each subject, according to the Associated Press.

The Asian countries of Singapore, South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong all had top average scores in each area. Vietnam, a war-torn country just a few years ago, had higher averages in math and science than the United States.

One teacher union executive was quick to blame part of this country failure on the distractions of the No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top federal programs.

It’s easy to point fingers, but that doesn’t get us very far in addressing this age-old problem.

One bright spot is that the state of Massachusetts did extremely well, ranking fourth in reading, seventh in science and tenth in math compared to other countries and educational systems.

Maybe the rest of the nation should find out what Massachusetts is doing right.

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