U.S. Math, Reading Proficiency Falls Short in Global Analysis

By Erik W. Robelen — August 19, 2011 1 min read
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You’ve heard it before: Student achievement in the United States trails that of many industrialized nations. Well, results of a new study summarized in the journal Education Next, takes a fresh look at recent data to gauge the proficiency rates of U.S. students in comparison to their international peers.

Not surprisingly, the results are much the same. The United States is well behind many countries. U.S. students rank 32nd in mathematics and 17th in reading. (More below on how the researchers did this.)

For math, the 32 percent of U.S. students from the 2011 graduating class who achieved math proficiency compared with 75 percent of students in Shanghai, 58 percent in South Korea, and 56 percent in Finland. Other nations where the students were well above the United States level included Australia, Canada, Germany, and the Netherlands. (However, even though the U.S. average score was ranked 32nd out of 65 nations, just 22 countries outperform the United States when the analysis is narrowed to include only statistically significant differences.)

To do the analysis, researchers at Harvard and Stanford universities, as well as the University of Munich, established what they termed a “crosswalk” between scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, and the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA. The researchers estimated the PISA score achieved by students said to be proficient on the 8th grade NAEP exams in reading and math from 2007.

The authors suggest there’s much to be concerned about in the results.

In a press release, co-author Eric Hanushek, an economist at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, writes: “Graduates in each and every state compete for jobs with graduates from all over the world. Since student performance on international tests such as PISA is closely related to long-term economic productivity growth, increasing U.S. students’ proficiency levels to those attained in Canada would increase our economic growth rate by some 50 percent.”

The research was prepared under the auspices of Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance and Education Next.

For more on the recent PISA results, check out this EdWeek story.

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