By Eric Hanushek and Paul Peterson
Many Americans were shocked to learn how poorly U. S. students were doing when the Program on International Student Assessment (PISA) released its study of math achievement for 2006. U. S. 15-year-olds came in 35th among the 57 nations who participated in its administration. The U. S. average score was 474 points (against an average of 500 for students in the industrialized countries that have been accepted as members of the Organizations of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), PISA’s sponsor).
But educators were encouraged in December 2008 when another respected international survey, Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), released results from its math testing for 2007. It found U. S. 8th graders to be ranked Number 9 among the 48 participating countries, and its score, at 508, was above the average for all students from participating countries. Furthermore, there are those such as Tom Loveless at the Brookings Institution, who has claimed that TIMSS does a better job of measuring math knowledge than PISA does. (Mark Schneider took a close look at both tests in this 2009 article for Education Next.) More than one commentator took these facts to argue that the problems of the American schools had been exaggerated.
Have we unfairly maligned our schools?