Against Other Nations, U.S. Below Par in Science

By Sean Cavanagh — November 29, 2007 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Includes updates and/or revisions.

American teenagers scored lower in science than students in a majority of other industrialized countries participating in a prominent international exam, in results that testing officials said they released early after the scores unexpectedly slipped out abroad.

Fifteen-year-old U.S. students ranked lower, on average, than their peers in 16 other countries, including those in Finland, Canada, Japan, the Czech Republic, and Ireland, out of 30 total industrialized nations, on the 2006 Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA.

The United States scored in the same statistical category as eight other developed nations in science, including Poland, France, Iceland, and Spain. The U.S. average was higher than the five remaining nations in that category.

At a time when many public officials are decrying American students’ middling performance on the international stage, the latest results seem likely to draw a glum reaction in political and education circles. The United States’ average score of 489 on the PISA science section also fell below the average score among industrialized nations of 500.

In 2003, the last time PISA measured science, U.S. students scored an average of 491, also below the international average for industrialized nations of 500.

Retesting Sought

PISA measures the science ability of 15-year-olds across nations. The Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD, which sponsors the test, was originally scheduled to release test scores in three subjects—reading, mathematics, and science—on Dec. 4. Science is the major subject examined on this year’s assessment, meaning it was tested in more depth than reading and math.

But in a Nov. 29 statement, officials from the Institute of Education Sciences, the arm of the federal Department of Education that administers the U.S. version of PISA, said that a Spanish publication broke an international embargo on the test results, publishing the science scores in advance of their official release date. After those scores were published, the OECD decided to make the science results public on its Web site, and U.S. officials said they decided to follow suit.

Officials in the United States have already dealt with a significant testing foul-up of their own doing on this year’s PISA. Because of a major printing error in the U.S. version of the reading test—which federal officials blamed on their contractor—the U.S. reading scores were invalidated and will not be released. (“Printing Errors Invalidate U.S. Reading Scores on PISA,” Nov. 28, 2007.)

Shortly after U.S. officials acknowledged that problem, Bob Wise, the president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington organization that seeks to improve high schools, wrote a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and IES Director Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, asking that they attempt to readminister the U.S. version of the PISA reading section. He noted that the next PISA reading results are not slated to be available to the public until 2010.

A spokesman for the IES, Bruce Friedland, said that his agency and the department would give “careful consideration” to the request, but that no decision had been made.

A version of this article appeared in the December 05, 2007 edition of Education Week as Against Other Nations, U.S. Below Par in Science


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Data Webinar
Working Smarter, Not Harder with Data
There is a new paradigm shift in K-12 education. Technology and data have leapt forward, advancing in ways that allow educators to better support students while also maximizing their most precious resource – time. The
Content provided by PowerSchool
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Deepen the Reach and Impact of Your Leadership
This webinar offers new and veteran leaders a unique opportunity to listen and interact with four of the most influential educational thinkers in North America. With their expert insights, you will learn the key elements
Content provided by Solution Tree
Science K-12 Essentials Forum Teaching Science Today: Challenges and Solutions
Join this event which will tackle handling controversy in the classroom, and making science education relevant for all students.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

International Opinion Why Other Countries Keep Outperforming Us in Education (and How to Catch Up)
Money from the American Rescue Plan could be our last chance to build the school system we need, writes Marc Tucker.
Marc Tucker
5 min read
A student climbs stacks of books to reach the top
Tatyana Pivovarova/iStock/Getty Images Plus
International Global Test Finds Digital Divide Reflected in Math, Science Scores
New data from the 2019 Trends in International Math and Science Study show teachers and students lack digital access and support.
3 min read
Image of data.
International Pre-COVID Learning Inequities Were Already Large Around the World
A new international benchmarking highlights gaps in training for digital learning and other supports that could deepen the challenge for low-income schools during the pandemic.
4 min read
International Part of Global Trend, 1 in 3 U.S. High Schoolers Felt Disconnected From School Before Pandemic
UNESCO's annual report on global education progress finds countries need to make more effort to include marginalized students, particularly in the United States.
4 min read