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Fewer Math Students Seen at Advanced Level

"U.S. Math Performance in Global Perspective"

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A new study finds that the United States is lagging far behind many of the world’s leading industrialized nations in producing a strong cadre of high-achieving students in mathematics.

That conclusion is based on comparing the percentage of U.S. students in the graduating class of 2009 who were highly accomplished in math, based on standardized-test results, with percentages for 56 other countries. The analysis also broke down the results state by state and for 10 urban districts.

Looking at nations that participated in the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, math exam, the study found that, overall, 30 countries had a larger percentage of students who scored at the international equivalent of the advanced level on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, better known as NAEP, than did the United States.

In fact, 16 countries had at least twice the percentage of high-achievers in math, including Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, New Zealand, the Czech Republic, Canada, Australia, and Germany.

Eric A. Hanushek, an economics professor at Stanford University and a co-author of the analysis, said that what sets this study apart is its emphasis on those students performing at an advanced level in math, rather than average achievement across the population. “We haven’t seen research that really focuses on how we’re doing at the top end,” Mr. Hanushek said.

The report also finds that the results for many states are at the level of developing countries. Even Massachusetts, often held up as a U.S. model, is significantly behind 14 nations in its percentage of high-achievers in math, according to the study.

“I think it’s important to recognize that we have a real problem, and it’s going to have long, long impacts on the U.S. economy and our society,” Mr. Hanushek said.

Vol. 30, Issue 11, Page 5

Published in Print: November 10, 2010, as Fewer Math Students Seen at Advanced Level
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