UP-cover-photoU.S. students trail the developed world in math, according to data released last week by the OECD. Results from the 2012 PISA test indicate that U.S. students’ math scores were below average for the 34 OECD countries tested, a ranking consistent with U.S. performance on the test over the past decade, and comparable to this year’s scores from Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Norway, Portugal, the Russian Federation, the Slovak Republic, Spain and Sweden. East Asian countries swept the top seven spots on the list, with Shanghai-China’s students achieving the top average scores. Given every three years since 1999, the PISA – or Programme for International Student Assessment – has become the world’s benchmark for school system quality.  More than 500,000 students internationally – including 6,000 students in the U.S. – participated in the 2012 exam that, as The Atlantic puts it, “measures not students’ retention of facts, but their readiness for ‘knowledge worker’ jobs.” Particularly troubling in the report is the finding that students in the U.S. struggle to solve situational math problems when no formula is provided, suggesting that students may be mastering mathematical objectives, but are unable to apply them to to solve problems in real-world contexts. Media coverage and opinion blogs from national and world news outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Fox News, BBC News, Education Week and Slate conveyed dismay at the U.S.’s middling rankings, calling U.S. students’ test performance “whiffed” and “a failure.” While affirming that U.S. schools are in dire need of improvement, some questioned the test’s methodology and the U.S. Department of Education’s alignment of the results to its own agenda. Others examine  Asian schools’ path to success and the OECD’s controversial agreement to include Shanghai-China in the comparison, which otherwise includes countries and independent states. Though focused primarily on student achievement, PISA’s 2012 findings and recommendations addressed a wide variety of education issues including curriculum, accountability, school competition, poverty, teacher leadership, and students’ and teachers’ investment and satisfaction. In its highlights for the U.S., the OECD commented on some frequently-cited factors of school quality, including funding – U.S. spending on education is sixth in the world, with many lower-spending countries ranking higher on the list – and proportion of students born outside the U.S. – a consideration that explains just 4% of performance, according to the document. PISA rankings and the OECD’s 2011 report, Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education, inspired Houston A+ Challenge’s 2013-14 Speaker Series on Education, which this year takes an unprecedented international focus.  This year’s speakers include the architect of the PISA test, Andreas Schleicher, as well as Pasi Sahlberg of Finland and Ee-Ling Low of Singapore, two nations with consistently high scores. Learn More and Register for Speaker Series More from PISA: 2012 Results Overview 2012 Report for the U.S. Try the 2012 Test
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