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article imageIn education, Chinese students lead the world

By Ken Wightman     Dec 7, 2010 in World
The 2009 PISA test results were released today. The U.S. student scores were a great disappointment — American students finished about two dozen notches down from the pace-setting Chinese.
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which administers the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) tests in about 65 countries worldwide every three years, the next strongest performances after China were from South Korea, Finland, Singapore, Canada, New Zealand and Japan. Full results here.
"We have to see this as a wake-up call," Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told The New York Times.
“I know skeptics will want to argue with the results, but we consider them to be accurate and reliable, and we have to see them as a challenge to get better. The United States came in 23rd or 24th in most subjects. We can quibble, or we can face the brutal truth that we’re being out-educated.”
The 65 participating countries are divided into to groups: 30 OECD member countries and 35 partner countries. While South Korea and Finland led the OECD group in reading literacy, China was the leading partner country and finished well ahead of both the OECD leaders. The tests in China were conducted in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Macao. All three participating regions in China delivered high grades but Shanghai was especially noteworthy.
Note the strong standing of Canada in the reading proficiency results.
Note the strong standing of Canada in the reading proficiency results.
Screen Grab fro PISA 2009 Results Video
Admittedly, these areas in China are economic powerhouses now supporting scores of the finest schools and universities in the world. Still, there is no disputing that the Chinese students demonstrated breath-taking improvements in academic abilities. For instance, in math the Shanghai students pulled well ahead of their Singapore competition, dethroning the formidable former world leader in the PISA ratings. American students were not even in contention, delivering average math scores that placed them below more than two dozen other countries.
In science, Shanghai students scored 575 while those in the United States scored 502. While this score is not shameful, it puts the U.S. in the company of Ireland, Norway, France and others, it carries no bragging rights either. Placing 23rd in science is not where students from the world's leading economy should find themselves.
Screen Grab fro PISA 2009 Results
Along with country standings, there was another surprise: Girls outperformed boys in every participating country in reading skills. The report notes that throughout most of the 20th century it was the underachievement of young girls that was the focus of concern. The scrutiny has now shifted to boys, at least when it comes to reading, with girls tending to outperform boys by half a proficiency level. This is equal to one year of schooling.
Boys still have their hold on first place in math but the gender gap in science among top performing student is small. When the three areas of academic expertise — reading, math, science — are considered, the report says, "on average across OECD countries, 4.4 percent of girls and 3.8 percent of boys are top performers in all three subjects . . ." Among those at the very top with wide ranging interests and knowledge, girls clearly rule!
If you're curious, sample questions from the tests have been posted by the OECD.
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