U.S. middle-class students beaten on international test

Middle-class students are lagging far behind their peers in other countries, adding a new perspective to beliefs that low-income students are most in need of better educational opportunities, according to a new study.

America Achieves, a nonprofit aimed at improving education and career opportunities for students, reviewed the 2009 science and math results on the Program for International Student Assessment, known as the PISA exam.  Analysts divided students into four socio-economic levels and found that U.S. students in the second highest quarter were outperformed by students in similar income levels in 15 other countries in science and 24 countries in math.

Both middle- and low-income U.S. students are outperformed by dozens of other nations on the PISA exam.  Source:  America Achieves.  (Click to enlarge).

Both middle- and low-income U.S. students are outperformed by dozens of other nations on the PISA exam. Source: America Achieves. (Click to enlarge).

“Many assume that poverty in America is pulling down the overall U.S. scores, but when you divide each nation into socio-economic quarters, you can see that even America’s middle class students are falling behind not only students of comparable advantage but also more disadvantaged students in several other countries,” according to the report titled “Middle Class or Middle of the Pack?”

Top performing countries, and regions of countries, include Shanghai, China; Taipei; Singapore; Hong Kong; Korea; and Finland. In math, the United States also falls behind Estonia, Slovenia, Iceland and the Czech Republic.

Analysts also found some hopeful news, however, from results of a pilot test by the same organization that developed PISA. Of the 105 U.S. high schools that participated in the pilot, some were nearly on par with the top performing nations, even when they had significant percentages of low-income students.

These weren’t anomalies; these schools have very clear expectations and values, according to America Achieves. They hire strong and knowledgeable teachers, use data, classroom observations and mentoring to continually improve teaching and stress accountability.

“Like their counterparts in many high-performing countries, high-performing schools in the U.S. are data-driven and transparent not only around learning outcomes but also around soft skills like completing work on time, resilience, perseverance and punctuality. The use of data to measure student improvement and teacher performance is often embedded in the school culture,” according to the report.

America Achieves cites Common Core standards as a move in the right direction, but adds that the U.S. needs “a deeper cultural shift” toward improving education for all students regardless of their background and must include parents, business and communities in preparing students to be critical thinkers.

Filed under: Career Preparation, Common Core, Curriculum, High-Needs Students, Hot Topics, State Education Policy, Testing and Accountability

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2 Responses to “U.S. middle-class students beaten on international test”

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  1. Gary Ravani on Apr 4, 2013 at 3:45 pm04/4/2013 3:45 pm

    • 000

    Wow1 Yet another “study” indicating middle class kids in the Us perform in the middle of some assessments. Kind of makes your hair stand up on end.

    Of course the international assessments are all about “economic competitiveness” aren’t they? I mean, with Slovenia and Estonia biting at our economic heels it’s hard to sleep at night.

    No wait, Estonia and Slovenia aren’t competitive with us. Finland is another matter. The World Economic Forum that ranks nation’s puts Finland’s economic competitiveness at #2 in the world and the US at #7. Must be those scores. Well no, though Finland’s education system is noted in the rankings it is “instability in the financial sector” that gets the US dinged. It’s those too big to fail or prosecute banks and hedge fund frauds that brought the US down from the #1 position it held for decades.

    Let’s see, do the glinty eyed pragmatists at America Achieves want to take on the billionaire boy’s club on Wall Street or just blather on about data and the usual corporate “reform” silver bullets? Let me read that article again. Just as i thought. The fact that they are funded by a lot of billionaire foundations likely has little to do with their position.

    Getting back to good old Finland though, it’s funny, when you read Finish policy expert Pasi Sahlberg’s book, Finnish Lessons, on how the Finns developed a high performing schools system it’s hard to find the word “data.” Instead you read how they started by emphasizing social and economic justice first, and then the performance followed. No witch hunts for “bad teachers,” or high stakes tests either. In fact the ratio between Finnish spending on teacher professional development and testing is 70:1. Finland’s educational emphasis on critical thinking and creativity as opposed to bubbling in test score sheets is given as a reason for their competitiveness.

    America Achieves pointedly doesn’t talk about the first quartile of students, those who attend schools with less than about 10% of the students receiving free and reduced lunch. Their scores are pretty good I’d venture to say. Near tops in the world? So the answer to high international test scores is really quite simple, just make sure no US school has more that 10% of the kids living in poverty. Now that would mean cutting the children’s poverty rate in half. Or we could go Finland’s route and reduce it to below 5%, a quarter of the US child poverty rate. Think of what the scores would be then!

  2. Hannah Katz on Apr 4, 2013 at 8:21 am04/4/2013 8:21 am

    • 000

    More proof that accountability does not work. We need to pay the teachers and especially the administrative overseers more and trust them to educate. They are the education experts, after all. So enough with the silly tests. Let the children work with clay and be creative.

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