5 Surprising Facts about US Student Performance on International Test

Teenagers working at their desks.
December 04, 2013

The Organization for Economic Development recently released the results for the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment. Watching and analyzing where 15-year-old U.S. students rank compared with their peers from around the world has become a ritual among educators and journalists. So, has the United States moved up or down in the global rankings? What country is number one in the world? And how can the United States move into the top spot?

On the 2012 PISA students in Shanghai, China earned the highest scores in math, reading, and science among the 65 countries and economies that participated in the test. U.S. performance was lower than that of 19 other education systems in reading, 22 in science, and 29 in math. But rankings tell only part of the story. A closer look reveals that there is a world of difference within student performance right here at home, and a few facts might surprise you.

1. Performance by gender varies across countries. 

Girls did better than boys did in reading in all countries in 2012, but either boys or girls can have the advantage in science and math. Proof again that the stereotype that girls can’t do math and science is wrong.

2. Girls outperformed boys in science in most countries.  

In the United States, girls and boys essentially tied in science performance.

3. Differences among boys and girls are often larger than differences between boys and girls.

In Massachusetts, boys outscored girls by three points, but Massachusetts girls outperformed girls in Florida by 48 points, on average, in science.

4. The United States ranks in the middle of the pack in the country rankings, but some American students perform as well as students from some of the highest-performing countries on PISA.

Ranked as its own entity, Massachusetts would rank in the top 10 globally for science performance.

5. The focus on international rankings often hides the world of difference that separates students here in the United States.

The performance gap in science  between American students in low-income and high-income public schools was 114 points, which is larger than the 83-point difference separating the United States from the top-ranked system, Shanghai.

By:   |   December 04, 2013

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