If students, parents, teachers, and business leaders are wondering about the impact education reform is having on academic performance in most US school districts, the latest results of the Program for International Student Assessment scores provide a stark answer. US students are not improving in core subjects – reading, math, and science. And even worse, they’re being left behind by students in countries that many Americans would consider inferior socially and economically.
PISA scores are often referred to as one of the most important measurements of student achievement. The tests are given to 15-year-old students in countries, rich and poor, all over the world. The scores are frequently used to chart education policy.
In math, only 9 percent of 15-year-old students in the US scored at level 5 or above – proficiency or higher. Compare that to Shanghai, China, where 55 percent of students scored at level 5 or higher.
In science, just 7 percent of 15-year-old students in the US scored at level 5 proficiency or higher, while in Shanghai, 27 percent scored at level 5 proficiency or higher.
And in reading, 8 percent of in the US scored at level 5 proficiency or higher. In Shanghai, 25 percent reached level 5 proficiency or higher.
In each category, US scored have essentially stagnated. Overall, the education systems in 18 countries ranked higher than the US. Canada, Germany, Finland, Singapore, Ireland, Japan, and several Chinese provinces ranked higher than the US.
What’s especially troubling is the rapid acceleration of students in countries that still rank behind the US, but could soon surpass it, such as Vietnam and Thailand. As an economic indicator in a global system, the PISA results show a shift to an Asian power base in the 21st century.
If there is a glimmer of hope for US students, it may be found in states like Massachusetts. If the state’s education system was counted as a country, it would rank sixth in the world.
State education leaders cite driving increased funding and resources to those students who are at greater risk as one of their most effective strategies. It’s worth noting that the state also has a strong statewide health care system where more than 90 percent of residents are insured.
The US scores also raise serious questions about whether reform measures going back to No Child Left Behind and, more recently, the Obama administration’s Race to the Top are working in US schools. The PISA scores would suggest the answer is no.