U.S. Students Make Unimpressive Showing on International Tests

Published February 3, 2017

U.S. students scored below the international average in math and showed no improvement in reading and science on the most recent Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) test.

Every three years, 15-year-old students in countries across the world take the two-hour PISA test administered by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). In 2015, approximately 540,000 students in 72 countries took the test.

OECD released the 2015 PISA results in December 2016. U.S. students scored an average of 470 in math, below the international average of 490. U.S. math scores are lower than they were 2009 and 2012. The United States scored 497 in reading, slightly above the international average of 493, and 496 in science, slightly above the international average of 493. Singapore performed the best on the PISA test.

“Among the 35 industrialized nations that are members of OECD, the U.S. now ranks 31st,” reported The Hechinger Report in December.

Common Core’s Fault?

Shane Vander Hart, online communications director for the American Principles Project, says the PISA scores show Common Core-aligned curricula now required in most public classrooms are not adequately preparing students.

“The Common Core math standards leave our students at a disadvantage,” Vander Hart said. “By the time students are in the 5th grade under Common Core, they are one year behind their international peers, and they are two years behind when they reach 7th grade.

“Common Core’s goal is to get students through Algebra II,” Vander Hart said. “That isn’t what is needed if a student wants to get into any collegiate [science, technology, engineering, math] program, let alone a selective college.”

The Common Core language standards are equally bad, Vander Hart says.

“Common Core’s [English language arts] standards, with their emphasis on informational text, do not adequately prepare students for college,” Vander Hart said. “Studies have shown that a focus on classical literature prepares students far more. Students who read good literature typically have better writing skills as well. It’s hard to write well if you don’t read good writing.”

PISA ‘Not Highly Regarded’

Sandra Stotsky, professor emerita in the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, says PISA isn’t a good indicator of our education system’s problems.

“PISA is not highly regarded by most mathematicians,” Stotsky said. “It is a test of 15-year-olds of skills that the average adult supposedly would have. It’s not a test of curriculum content, which is what the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study is. That’s why mathematicians prefer TIMSS, which is an international test that gives kids test items that reflect curriculum content at grade levels 4 and 8. We didn’t have impressive results with TIMSS, which came out about a week before the PISA results came out. We did mediocre on both of them.”

Elizabeth BeShears ([email protected]) writes from Trussville, Alabama.