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Ask Efficacy: How does the U.S. rank internationally in education?
How does the U.S. rank internationally in education? The most recent results show that the U.S. ranks 12th of 24 countries in 4th-grade math, 15th of 44 countries in 8th grade math (2003), and 9th of 35 countries in 4th-grade reading (2001).
These are the results of two highly respected, comparative international assessments of student performance, TIMSS (Trends in International Math and Science Study), and PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study). TIMSS gives us an assessment of the math and science performance of U.S. students (grades 4 and 8) compared to that of their peers from around the world; it is administered every four years (1995-present). PIRLS is administered every five years (2001-present) and gives us an assessment of how our 4th graders compare with others around the world in reading, including studies of behavior and attitudes toward reading. Both are criterion-referenced assessments.
These tests are important, and it is important that Americans understand their results. A new national poll of registered voters shows that an overwhelming majority of Americans are concerned about how our children will compete internationally in the 21st century (for full results see the article "U.S. Students Need 21st Century Skills to Compete in Global Market"). Researcher Geoffrey Garin comments, "Right now, far more Americans perceive us as falling behind other countries... than see us taking the lead."
They are right to be concerned. Consider the 4th-grade math statistics: Although American 4th graders showed no change in their math performance between 1995 and 2003, children from five other countries significantly increased their scores and either passed, or came close to passing, the U.S. score. Perhaps more disturbing is the statistic from the PIRLS study of student attitudes toward reading. Out of 35 participating countries, U.S. student attitudes toward reading ranked third from the bottom--suggesting our children are showing little interest in this fundamental subject.
Former Colorado Governor and L.A. County School Superintendent, Roy Romer, Director of the organization ED in 08, recently commented: "The evidence is very clear that national leaders must strengthen America's schools to grow the economy and ensure our students can compete." The Partnership for 21st Century Skills even goes further; they suggest that No Child Left Behind (the federal legislation that mandates aggressive improvements in the academic performance of American students) extend its focus to include what they term the international achievement gap.
The 2007 TIMSS results are due this December, and the 2006 PIRLS are also forthcoming. Watch FNO for full reporting of the results, as soon as they are available.
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