U.S. Pupils Rank Low in 8-Nation Test
An achievement test administered to 6th-grade pupils in eight nations by a Dallas newspaper has found new evidence that American schoolchildren lag behind their counterparts elsewhere, particularly in mathematics.
While Japanese children led by answering, on average, 50.2 percent of the questions correctly, American children answered 25.3 percent correctly. But on a test of geography, Japanese students ranked below those of the other seven countries.
The tests, given to a total of 600 children in the U.S., Canada, England, Australia, Japan, Sweden, Switzerland, and France, were sponsored by The Dallas Times Herald. Editors at the newspaper decided to administer the tests as part of an 11-part series examining in detail the issues raised by the report of the National Commission on Excellence in Education. The Times Herald spent an estimated $240,000 on the series, publication of which began on Dec. 11.
The tests were an important part of the series because the excellence commission had to rely on international test scores that dated from the 1960's, according to Ray Herndon, the assistant managing editor who directed the project. Although a new international assessment is now underway, the new data are not yet available, so there was no way to know whether the gap between U.S. students and students elsewhere still held, he said.
To design the tests, the newspaper enlisted experts in the fields and worked with test designers in the Dallas school system and local universities. Glenn T. Seaborg, a Nobel laureate in chemistry who served on the excellence commission, supervised the development of the science test.
Stephen Willoughby, a mathematics-education professor at New York University and president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, developed the mathematics test.
The geography test was developed by Joseph Stoltman, chairman of the education committee for the International Geophysical Union, and Gilbert White of the University of Colorado.
"All of the testing people and educators that we dealt with said the sample size was adequate," said Mr. Herndon. "We do not present this as absolutely scientifically valid. We were not able to control the giving of the tests, and had to rely on other people to help us."
Arrangements for administering the tests were made through embassies, government agencies, and, in some cases, other newspapers, according to Mr. Herndon.
Of the three academic areas, the American children made the poorest showing in mathematics, ranking below pupils in all the other coun-tries. The high average score of Japanese students was followed by that of Swedish students, with 39.7 percent; Australians, with 37.8 percent; Canadians, with 35.8 percent; French students, with 33.3 percent; and Swiss students, with 31 percent.
In science, Swedish students made the highest average score, with 55.4 percent of their answers correct. They were followed by English pupils, with 54.5 percent correct; Australian and Canadian students, with 49.2 percent; Japanese students, with 45.3 percent; Americans, with 43.7 percent; French students, with 42.1 percent; and Swiss students, with 41.3 percent.
Swedish students also scored the highest in geography, with an average of 54.1 percent of the test questions answered correctly. English pupils were next, with 50.5 percent correct. Canadian students averaged 48 percent correct; Americans 45.8 percent; Swiss students 43.4 percent; Australians 42.7 percent; French students 41.3 percent; and Japanese 40.5 percent.
The series was intended to in-crease public understanding of the issues involved in education reform, spokesmen for the Dallas newspaper said. The issue of reform is of central importance in Texas right now, since a state committee is expected to make recommendations on education in January. Those recommendations are said to be likely to influence the legislature, which is scheduled to convene in January.
Editors at the paper said the series, which covers a wide range of education topics, could also influence what happens.
"I think that any time you further sensitize the public to a problem, that does have ultimately an effect on the legislative process," Mr. Herndon said. "We're going to send copies of the articles to every member of the legislature because we've done considerable research, and we're proud of what we've done. I'm not sure that they'd all reach the same conclusions we did."
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