By Jane Alexander, Deputy Editor
December rolled in with a big chill for many parents this year. I’m not referring to the weather, but to all-over-the-news reports of recently released standard test results showing (sigh) that American high-school students are continuing to lag behind their European and Asian counterparts in math, science and reading.
According to an Associated Press (AP) article published in the Washington Post on Dec. 3, roughly half a million students in 65 countries and educational systems took part in the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) that’s coordinated by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Given every three years to 15-year-olds, the test is designed to assess problem-solving skills based on a 1000-point scale. Note these findings. Read ’em and weep:
■ Math: U.S. average score was 481. (Average scores ranged from 368 in Peru to 613 in Shanghai, with an international average of 494.)
■ Science: U.S. average score was 497. (Average scores ranged from 373 in Peru to 580 in Shanghai, with an international average of 501.)
■ Reading: U.S. average score was 498. (Average scores ranged from 384 in Peru to 570 in Shanghai, with an international average of 496.)
While the AP/Washington Post article went on to quote U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan calling our kids’ failing to score in the top 20 on math, reading or science “a picture of educational stagnation,” that’s just part of the story. The fact is U.S. PISA scores haven’t changed much since this testing began in 2000, even as students in countries like Ireland and Poland have shown improvement and moved ahead of ours.
As a keen observer—i.e., strong supporter—of North American educational and workforce-development efforts (and as a doting mom and grandmother), I do have a dog in this fight. These U.S. PISA results disturb me (and should disturb you, too). Not everybody seems to feel that way, however.
Another take appears in a recently re-posted Blog on the TechCrunch.com Website entitled “Why It’s Never Mattered That America’s Schools ‘Lag’ Behind Other Countries (2013 Edition).” Gregory Ferenstein posted the original version last year in light of other dismal U.S. test results. In it, he raised several compelling points. I don’t buy into all of them, but I do agree that U.S. high-school students aren’t always graduating with the requisite critical-thinking skills needed in college; and that colleges aren’t always equipping students to hit the ground running when they do find jobs. (Imagine that!) I urge you to check out this piece and the pro and con comments it received for yourself. It’s good reading.
In the meantime, for yet another contrarian view on critical-thinking skills, etc., click here. Respected industry veteran Heinz Bloch has some things to say. Happy Holidays! MT