Global Data for Reading, STEM to Renew Debate on U.S. Standing

By Erik W. Robelen — December 11, 2012 1 min read
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Brace yourself for a fresh round of debate about how U.S. students stack up against their global peers. This morning, results came out from two major international assessments, one for math and science (TIMSS) and the other for reading (PIRLS).

We’ve got separate stories published for literacy and STEM already. And fear not, we’ll have more analysis today and later this week both on this blog and on other EdWeek blogs. In fact, over at Rules for Engagement, my colleague Nirvi Shah takes a closer look at survey data on student engagement, school safety, and health.

So, how did we do? Well, it’s complicated. But here’s the basic gist. In reading, U.S. 4th graders gained ground, outperforming all but four nations. On TIMSS, U.S. students exceeded the global average of participants in both reading and mathematics, but several East Asian countries and jurisdictions far outpaced our students. In the most striking example, almost half of all 8th graders tested in South Korea, Singapore, and Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) reached the “advanced” level, compared with just 7 percent of U.S. students.

As I started to write this blog post, a statement from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan arrived in my in-box. Here’s how he starts:

“These 2011 international assessments provide both encouraging news about our students’ progress and some sobering cautionary notes. The encouraging news is that U.S. fourth grade students have made significant progress in reading and mathematics in the last five years, and our fourth graders now rank among the world’s leaders in reading literacy.”

At the end of his statement, Duncan notes: “A number of nations are out-educating us today in the STEM disciplines—and if we as a nation don’t turn that around, those nations will soon be out-competing us in a knowledge-based, global economy.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.