Students in the United States show little distinction compared with most other countries in reading, mathematics, or science at any grade level or age—and, according to one international test, are near the bottom of the pack in math, says a special analysis released by the Institute of Education Sciences of the U.S. Department of Education.
On the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, both 4th and 8th graders scored above the scale average in math in 2007, and scores for U.S. students increased since 1995. Fourth graders in eight of the 35 other countries taking the test scored higher on average than 4th graders in the United States. Eighth graders in five of the 47 other participating countries performed better than American students. Students in grades 4 and 8 in Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, and Japan scored higher than U.S. students in those grades in math.
On the Program for International Student Assessment, given to 15-year-olds, U.S. students were below the average scale score in math in 2006. That put American students in the bottom quarter of performance for participating countries, a position that hasn’t changed since 2003.
The results were similar for science. On TIMSS, U.S. 4th and 8th graders scored above the average scale score in science. Students in Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, and Japan outshone the U.S. students. On the PISA in science, U.S. 15-year-olds scored below the average.
The IES researchers examined the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study from 2006 to compare reading performance of American students with their counterparts in the rest of the world. On that test, U.S. 4th graders’ reading-literacy score was higher than the average scale score. At the same time, students in 10 of the 45 participating countries or provinces (three Canadian provinces participated) did better on the test than did students from the United States.
A version of this article appeared in the August 26, 2009 edition of Education Week