Report: International tests severely misrank U.S. students

Authors confused why PISA releases its first data sets on averages; say its misleading.
“What’s puzzling is why international tests like PISA release overall average scores first, then more nuanced data weeks or months later, since this promotes misleading analyses,” said a co-author of the report.

Prominent international tests skew comparisons of test scores, and U.S. student performance actually ranks much higher than believed, according to a new report released by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

The truth, says the report, is that—when comparing apples to apples in weighing U.S. student performance against that of other industrialized countries—U.S. students don’t rank 25th in math, but 10th; and in reading, the country is not 14th, but 4th.

The report, “What do international tests really show about U.S. student performance?,” is the first of its kind to detail what it claims is an inaccurate analysis of student performance on international tests such as the Program on International Student Assessment (PISA) and Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).

The report’s analysis found that average U.S. scores in reading and math on the PISA are low partly because a “disproportionately greater share of U.S. students come from disadvantaged social class groups, whose performance is relatively low in every country.”

When differences in countries’ social class compositions are adequately taken into account, the report says, the performance of U.S. students in relation to students in other countries improves markedly. “Errors in selecting sample populations of test-takers and arbitrary choices regarding test content contribute to results that appear to show U.S. students lagging,” it says.

(Next page: In-depth findings)

Meris Stansbury

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