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Could your school lead in world rankings?

A new test from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) will let individual schools see how their achievement ranks compared to schools in other countries around the world. The goal, say the creators, is to spur school improvement.

According to a recent report released by the nonprofit educational organization America Achieves, it’s not just low-income schools in the U.S. that have poor performance—it’s the country’s middle-class students, too.

“While the need for educational improvement in low-income communities is real and important, this new report suggests that the need also extends deeply into America’s middle class,” the organization maintains.

(Next page: Good news for some U.S. schools)The report, based on new analyses of math and science data disaggregated by economic and social advantage from the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), reveals that U.S. students in the second to top quarter of socio-economic advantage lag behind their international peers and are “significantly” outperformed by 24 countries and regions in math and by 15 in science.

Previously published results show that U.S. students in the second quarter of economic advantage “lag significantly” behind 10 other countries in reading.

“Mounting evidence clearly shows that our educational performance is not just a challenge of poverty, it’s an American challenge. Many middle class schools in the U.S. are not yet producing students ready to compete in the global economy,” the report says.

However, the report also contains good news. Thanks to the new test developed by OECD, 7,000 15-year-old U.S. students across 105 schools in 22 states participated in a pilot that benchmarked students’ proficiency in reading, math, and science against the world’s top education systems. Some individual U.S. schools outperform the average results of every country in the world that participated in PISA 2009.

Woodson High School in Virginia and BASIS Tucson North in Arizona performed higher than the average performance of every other nation in the world.

The test revealed that low-income schools can be globally competitive, too. North Star Academy—a non-selective, predominantly low-income school in New Jersey—cracked the world’s top 10 by outperforming all but the average of nine countries in reading.

The test also highlights poor performing schools. For instance, a middle class school serving a similar student population as Woodson and BASIS had lower results than those of some 29 countries in math, 21 in science, and 35 in reading.

“As it turns out, under its home state grading system based on the state assessment, this underperforming school (by global standards) earned an ‘A’ in 2011-2012,” the report notes.

(Next page: How to sign up for the test)

“In a global economy, the benchmark for educational success is no longer progress by state standards alone, but by the best performing education systems internationally,” said Andreas Schleicher, special adviser on education policy to OECD’s secretary-general and deputy director for education. “With this new OECD Ttest, schools now have the tools to see themselves in the light of what the world’s educational leaders show can be achieved.”

OECD hopes that the test will not be used for rankings only, but rather as a stepping stone for progress.

The information on students’ achievement, their engagement, and the teaching and learning environment at participating schools should stimulate further reflection and discussion among school staff and local educational authorities, OECD officials said.

In the future, the test is expected to provide important peer-to-peer learning opportunities—locally, nationally, and internationally—as well as the opportunity to share good practices to help identify “what works” in order to improve and make useful change.

More detailed information on the pilot schools that participated on the test, as well as what characteristics help to spur student achievement, can be found in the report.

“For the first time, individual high schools can look in the international mirror and get a true reflection of how they compare to their global peers,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia, in a statement. “More importantly, individual high schools taking the new OECD test for Schools now have the data and information to improve student performance even more.

He continued: “All students will be measured at some point. Schools can either take the OECD school-based test now to see how their students compete, or wait until their students enter the workforce and have market forces tell them how they stack up.”

All schools will be able to take the OECD test for Schools in September 2013. Schools and districts interested should visit:

OECD notes that the Test for Schools and the main PISA studies are different assessments and should not be confused.

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