06
Oct
09

Why Don’t American Students Score Better Internationally

The news never changes: Americans score poorly on academic tests when compared to the rest of the world.

American high school seniors scored below students from most other countries in an international test of math and science, according to results released Tuesday.

“Half of all respondents – 50 percent – said they think American kids are falling short internationally because they are lazy, a belief that is shared by slightly more women (53 percent) than men (48 percent),” Wenzil’s analysis found. “Another 40 percent said that it is bad U.S. curriculum that is to blame for the poor international performance of U.S. kids.

A large international study of 20 countries, released in February 1992, tested 9- and 13-year-olds in mathematics and science. Findings show that, except for 9-year-olds tested in science, American students ranked close to the bottom when scores of the top 10 percent of students tested in each country were compared.

Our inability to compete internationally against other students is chronic, long-standing and well-documented. The question is why. We can point fingers at many culprits:

  • schools
  • the federal government
  • parents
  • students
  • state standards
  • capitalism
  • Americans are just plain stupid

What we don’t seem to be able to do is fix it, despite an ongoing battle to save our schools. Homeschooling, magnet schools, more money, better-paid teachers–none of it seems to make a difference.

I thought I’d share this analysis. It brings to mind many of the arguments we make for why students of color can’t score well on SAT’s, ACT’s, high school graduation tests:

Some observers of international education say that comparing the United States with foreign countries based on such test results may not always lead to accurate assumptions.

“Students are asked a set of questions in a variety of countries that are not linked to what they are being taught in school,” said Elizabeth Leu, a senior education adviser at the Academy for Educational Development, a Washington-based group that operates education programs abroad. (This is) somebody’s idea of what students at a certain level should know. There always is a problem of that sort with international assessment, and they end up being unfair in one way or another.”


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