The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has administered the PISA or Program for International Assessment for years. On the surface it appears that American students have indeed fallen behind other wealthy, industrialized democracies. The PISA provides an impressive body of student outcomes that upon closer examination seem to provide at least a partial explanation for U.S. student performance of these international exams. U.S. student performance was compared to student outcomes from seven other similar industrial democracies.
One of the most salient outcomes offered an explanation for U.S. student performance that has fallen behind. Perhaps the most salient revelation from the data was that social class inequity in the U.S. is greater than in any of the comparative countries. In every country, students at the bottom of the social class distribution did more poorly than their more well off peers.
Because there are so many more U.S. test takers at the bottom of the social class distribution than their comparative peers, U.S. students perform more poorly. If U.S. students had a similar social class distribution seen in comparative nation’s average reading scores would be higher for the U.S. than in comparative countries like France, South Korea and United Kingdom. Average math scores for U.S. students would improve to the international average if U.S. students had a similar social class distribution to their group of comparison countries. In fact, the U.S. would improve to tenth in Math and fourth in Reading in international comparisons. Currently, the U.S. is 14th in reading and 25th in math respectively. At all points in the social class distribution, U.S. students are performing worse and in some instances substantially worse than students in the top performing countries Finland, Canada and South Korea.
One area where U.S. students did do better than comparison countries was at the very bottom of the social class distribution where U.S. students have improved each year while comparison country outcomes for this group were unimproved or worsened. These international test outcomes seem to affirm what has long been known and advanced by sociological and educational experts as empirical; students living in poverty do less well.
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