Study: U.S. Test Gains Middling Compared With Other Nations

By Erik W. Robelen — July 17, 2012 2 min read
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The rate at which U.S. students have improved their achievement since 1995 falls in the middle of the pack when compared with other, mostly industrialized nations, a new study drawing on standardized test data finds.

In addition, the researchers shed light on which U.S. states have seen the fastest—and slowest—growth over time (dating back further, to 1992), based on data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The top five, in rank order, are: Maryland, Florida, Delaware, Massachusetts, and Louisiana. The bottom five? Iowa, with the slowest growth, followed by Maine, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and Nebraska.

Over at the State EdWatch blog, my colleague Andrew Ujifusa takes a closer look at the new study, which is being published in the fall edition of the journal, Education Next. Co-authors are Eric Hanushek from Stanford University, Paul Peterson from Harvard University, and Ludger Woessmann from the University of Munich in Germany.

The researchers did a crosswalk between NAEP data and results from several prominent international exams to conduct their analysis, essentially devising a common scale. The focus is on test data in reading, mathematics, and science. The growth data for the United States as a whole and for individual U.S. states is based on NAEP, while the results for other countries are drawn from other exams: PISA (Program for International Student Assessment), TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study), and PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study).

Since the State EdWatch post focused more on the domestic component, I’ll just say a little more about the international results.

The five nations with the fastest achievement growth over time, the study says, were Latvia, Chile, Brazil, Portugal, and Germany. (Hong Kong, not a nation, of course, was technically in fifth place.) Other nations with growth outpacing the United States included Singapore, the United Kingdom, and—the darling of many who look for models overseas—Finland.

“In sum, the gains posted by the United States in recent years are hardly remarkable by world standards,” the researchers say. “Although the United States is not among the nine countries that were losing ground over this period of time, 11 other countries were moving forward at better than twice the pace of the United States.”

The researchers note that if all states had made the same kind of progress over time as this nation’s high-flyers, the United States would be making progress “roughly comparable to the rate of improvement in Germany and the United Kingdom, bringing the United States reasonably close to the top-performing countries in the world.”

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