New results from an international test of the math, science and reading skills of 15-year-olds find that American teenagers are, well, average.
The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests students every three years to determine how they compare globally. 65 countries and education systems participated in the most recent study.
Here are some of the findings:
In math, U.S. 15-year-old students actually came in below average. Asian countries took the top seven spots. The United States came in behind Latvia, Luxembourg and Iceland, to name a few.
Only nine percent of the U.S. students tested scored in the top proficiency levels, while 26 percent scored at the bottom. The study found that students in Shanghai, China are the equivalent of two years ahead of American students in math.
U.S. students do a little better keeping up with their global cohorts in science . The PISA tests found that seven percent scored at a high level, and that’s about average. However, the 15-year-olds in 22 countries or education systems—including the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Canada and Vietnam—do better overall in science.
Nearly one in five 15-year-old U.S. students scored at the lowest end of the scale in science, roughly equal to the global average.
The trend continues in reading. The average score of U.S. students was lower than 19 education systems, higher than 24 and about the same as 11 other countries. Again, Asian countries are at the top. The U.S. ranks just behind Germany, China and Switzerland, and just ahead of Latvia, Spain and Luxembourg.
In the Shanghai, China education system, one in four students reached the highest levels of reading proficiency. In the U.S., that number is less than one in ten.
The report finds the scores for U.S. students are “not measurably different” from any time over the last 13 years, yet we’re losing ground. That’s because other countries are doing better, according to Jan Rivkin, co-chair of Harvard’s U.S. Competitiveness Project.
“While our scores in reading are the same as 2009, scores from Belgium, Estonia, Germany, Ireland, Poland and others have improved and now surpass ours,” Rivkin told National Public Radio. “Other countries that were behind us, like Italy and Portugal, are now catching up. The problem is not that we’re slowing down. The problem is that other runners are getting faster.”
The United States remains a global behemoth and surveys still rank the U.S. among the most competitive economies in the world. However, those same surveys also note some slippage. The PISA results may explain at least part of the reason why.
In the expanding and hyper-competitive global economy, average just isn’t good enough.