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article imageUS students average among world’s top performing countries

By Lynn Herrmann     Mar 17, 2011 in World
Washington - Recent results from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) show Chinese students, taking the PISA exam for the first time, placed first in all three categories of math, science and reading, while US students were around or below average.
PISA (pdf) is an international analysis conducted every three years that measures performance of 15 year-olds in reading, math and science. It began in 2000, coordinated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an organization of 34 member countries. In 2009, 60 countries and 5 other educational systems, including Shanghai-China, participated in the PISA program.
Surprises for some were the overall results of the program. In combined reading literacy, US 15 year-olds scored an average of 500, slightly above the OECD overall average of 493. The combined reading scale includes reflect and evaluate, access and retrieve, and integrate and interpret.
In reading literacy, 18 percent of US students scored below level 2, described by OECD as “a baseline level of proficiency, at which students begin to demonstrate the reading literacy competencies that will enable them to participate effectively and productively in life.”
Among OECD countries, the top five performers in combined reading literacy scale were the Republic of Korea (539), Finland (536), Canada (524), New Zealand (521), and Japan (520).
The top performing non-OECD countries or educational systems in combined reading literacy were Shanghai-China (556), Hong Kong-China (533) and Singapore (526).
In mathematics literacy, the US average score of 487 fell below the OECD average score of 496. Of the other 33 OECD member countries, 17 countries scored higher averages than the US. Of the 64 other OECD countries participating in PISA, 23 had higher average scores than the US.
Top five performing OECD countries in math were the Republic of Korea (546), Finland (541), Switzerland (534), Japan (529), and Canada (527).
The top non-OECD countries participating in the PISA math literacy exam were Shanghai-China (600), Singapore (562), Hong Kong-China (555), Chinese Taipei (543) and Liechtenstein (536).
In science literacy, the US had an average score of 502, not far off the OECD average of 501. Still, among OECD countries, 12 had higher averages than the US. Among non-OECD countries, 18 scored higher than the US.
Top five OECD countries in science were Finland (554), Japan (539), Republic of Korea (538), New Zealand (532), and Canada (529).
The top non-OECD countries in science were Shanghai-China (575), Hong Kong-China (549), Singapore (542), Chinese Taipei (520), and Liechtenstein (520).
Overall, only 2 percent of US students performed at the highest proficiency level. That compares to Korea at 8 percent and Finland at 5 percent.
A new report on global educational systems, What the U.S. Can Learn From the Worlds Most Successful Education Reform Efforts (pdf), published by the McGraw-Hill Research Foundation, noted that while the US was the first nation to offer free public education opportunities for its young people which resulted in the best-educated workforce by 1945, the 21st century of a globally connected high-tech economy has allowed countries such as China, Canada, Korea, Japan and Finland to lead the way as best-performing PISA countries.
In a speech on education this week, President Barack Obama said: “In South Korea, teachers are known as ‘nation builders,’ and I think it’s time we treated our teachers with the same level of respect,” according to the New York Times.
On the subject of the US lag in education quality compared to other countries, Andreas Schleicher, head of OECD's PISA program, said: “Teaching in the U.S. ins unfortunately no longer a high-status occupation,” according to the New York Times. “Despite the characterization of some that teaching is an easy job, with short hours and summers off, the fact is that successful, dedicated teachers in the U.S. work long hours for little pay and, in many cases, insufficient support from their leadership,” he added.
The report comes at a time when political leaders in Wisconsin are attempting to reduce teachers’ bargaining rights and reducing their pensions.
In Texas, as many as 100,000 teachers face possible layoffs if the state is unable to find a solution for its $27 billion budget shortfall, an issue being avoided as its governor, Rick Perry, fast-tracks controversial abortion and state voter ID measures.
The OECD report suggests several measures for bringing the US up to a competitive level on the international scale, including improving the status of the teaching profession to that of the world’s best performing economies, establishing and applying high standards to all students,
improving per capita spending patterns on its students, and controlling socio-economic differences to help level the playing field for economically disadvantaged students.
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