PISA results yield 4 key actions for U.S. education

“Stagnant” U.S. PISA performance is a call to action, experts say

US-PISAU.S. students lagged behind their international counterparts in reading, math, and science, and students’ performance remained flat as other countries’ students improved, according to much-anticipated data from the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

The PISA is an international study launched in 1997 that assesses 15-year-olds in reading, math, and science every three years in an effort to evaluate worldwide education systems.

This year, test results focused on math in particular. According to key findings, the U.S. ranked 26th out of the 34 OECD countries. While math performance was below average, science and reading performance stayed close to average, with the U.S. ranking 17th in reading and 21st in science.

(Next page: Details on U.S. PISA performance)

Of notable concern, though, is a gap between U.S. performance and that of top-performing countries. For instance, Shanghai-China’s performance “is the equivalent of over two years of formal schooling ahead of those observed in Massachusetts, itself a strong-performing U.S. state.”

Slightly more than one in four U.S. students do not reach the PISA baseline Level 2 in mathematics proficiency. This is a higher rate than other OECD countries and has remained unchanged since 2003.

The latest PISA report comes at a “crucial time,” OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria noted, because helping students develop skills that will lead to college and workplace success is critical, and faces challenges in the wake of ongoing economic struggles and tight school budgets.

The U.S. remained “fundamentally flat” compared with many other countries that have improved their PISA performances over the past decade, he said.

The report devotes a section to the impact the Common Core could have on students’ math performance, and implementing the Common Core math standards “would undoubtedly improve PISA results” in the U.S., Gurria said.

U.S. PISA performance is “straightforward and stark–it is a picture of educational stagnation,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said.

“The problem here is not that our 15-year-olds are performing worse today than before–the problem instead is that they’re simply not making progress.”

But students in other nations are advancing, and in a knowledge-based economy where education is the biggest key to success, “our students are basically losing ground,” Duncan added.

“The results show that American is falling well short of our aspirational goals for education,” he said. “Together, we have an amazing chance to learn from our colleagues across the globe and take to scale what we know makes a difference in our children’s lives.”

And while there is much focus on how the U.S. ranks, many policymakers and ed-tech note that it is key to look beyond the rankings and analyze what the PISA results mean for the U.S., and how lessons from other high-performing PISA nations can help U.S. education leaders improve education policies and practice.

“…There is valuable information in the PISA report beyond the rankings that we should not ignore, including the results of OECD research on the policies and practices that high-performing nations use in their successful efforts to improve student achievement. From this work, the United States can draw many lessons that can inform our efforts to advance student learning,” said Cheryl S. Williams, executive director of the Learning First Alliance, a partnership of 14 leading education associations, in a statement.

“What’s more important is what lessons we can learn about high performance,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education (AEE).

Education leaders should examine “how high-performing nations use high-quality assessments and high academic standards to raise student learning outcomes,” he said.

AEE issued a report with four ways education leaders can use PISA results to inform U.S. policy and practice:

  1. States should develop and implement standards for student performance that include expectations that students can use knowledge to solve problems, think critically, and communicate effectively.
  2. States should adopt and implement assessments that measure deeper learning competencies.
  3. States and higher education institutions should revamp teacher preparation programs and professional development programs to ensure that teachers are prepared to enable students to develop deeper learning competencies.
  4. The federal government should support deeper learning through legislation and competitive grants.

To access the entire report and read about each recommendation in more detail, click here.

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Laura Ascione

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