US Students Lag on International Test

Dec 3, 2013

New international testing results show American high school students are only about average when compared to their peers in the developed world. The test, known as the Program for International Student Assessment or PISA, has long been a source of hand-wringing about American competitiveness and calls for more urgent reforms in public schools.

Here are some highlights from the 2012 PISA test:

  • The United States produced fewer top students than countries like China, Finland, and Canada. Just 12 percent of U.S. students reached the highest levels in at least one subject on the test, compared with 56 percent in Shanghai-China and nearly 22 percent in Canada.
  • 19 countries and school systems bested the United States in reading, and as Education Week reports, that's an increase over 2009. More countries are also now beating the U.S. in math and science, suggesting that other countries are improving their education systems while the U.S. remains stagnant.
  • U.S. student performance in reading, math, and science has basically remained flat since 2009.
  • Massachusetts students performed better than average in all tested subjects.

What is PISA?

PISA is an international exam given every three years to a sampling of 15-year-olds in 65 developed nations around the globe. American states receiving separate score reports include Massachusetts, Connecticut and Florida.

PISA is administered by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. The test was designed to measure how well students apply what they've learned in school to real-life situations, and it consists mainly of open ended response prompts with only a few multiple choice questions, according to the National School Boards Association.

Many education advocates say PISA is one of few tools available to compare U.S. students compare to their international counterparts. Critics, however, decry what they describe as an obsession with standardized testing in American public schools.