PISA: U.S. Educational Performance Flat, But Lessons to Be Learned

December 5th, 2013

Category: Policy and Practice, Student-Centered Learning

On Tuesday, the 2012 results for the largest international study of student performance, Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), were released. PISA is administered every three years to fifteen year olds in 65 countries worldwide, assessing students’ ability to apply acquired knowledge in math, science, and reading in real-world contexts. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) manages PISA.

The United States ranked 17th in reading, 21st in science, and 26th in math. Our country’s student performance in reading and science weren’t statistically significantly different than the global average, and student performance in math was statistically significantly below the global average. Three years ago, U.S. students performed about the same as these results; yet for 2012, the United States’ ranking fell in all three content areas because other nations’ student performance increased, moving their nations farther ahead.

U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan spoke about this stagnant performance, saying “The brutal truth is that this reality must serve as a wake-up call against educational complacency and low expectations.”

Clearly, from a Delaware perspective, we need to heed that warning, but if we take a closer look at the countries that have moved aggressively up the rankings, there is some good news for our state.

When looking at the better-performing nations, there are a lot of nuances to the trends, but they share at least a few of the major systemic strategies that Delaware has embraced:

1. They work to attract and support highly-effective educators and school leaders

2. They have high, universal standards for students akin to our Common Core State Standards

3. They support strong early learning prior to kindergarten, consistent with our state’s early learning initiative.

Andreas Schleicher, OECD’s Deputy Director for Education and Skills and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the Secretary-General, has shared that his team was not surprised by many of the shifts in performance of countries because they saw that investments in policies like early learning ten years prior were starting to now show up in this test of fifteen year olds.

There is no sugarcoating these results; this country has a long way to go. However, based on what the analysis suggests is moving the needle globally, we continue to feel good about some of the core priorities of the state’s education strategy: high, clear expectations; great teachers and leaders; and deep investment in early learning.

Paul Herdman




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