From Education Week by Liana Heitlin:
U.S. performance in reading, math, and science has remained stagnant since 2009 as other nations have plowed ahead, according to new results from a prominent international assessment.

Nineteen countries and education systems scored higher than the United States in reading on the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, up from nine systems when the test was last administered in 2009. Germany and Poland, for instance, have seen steady gains on the reading assessment over time, and are now ahead of the United States.

In mathematics, 29 nations and other jurisdictions outperformed the United States by a statistically significant margin, up from 23 three years ago, the results released Tuesday show. The nations that eclipsed the U.S. average included not only traditional high fliers like South Korea and Singapore, but also Austria, the United Kingdom, and Vietnam.

In science, 22 education systems scored above the U.S. average, up from 18 in 2009.

“While we’re standing still, other countries are making progress,” said Jack Buckley, the commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which issued the U.S. report on PISA.

The global assessment compares reading, math, and science “literacy”—or knowledge and application of skills—among 15-year-olds internationally. For the first time, the report also includes separately reported results for public school students in three American states: Connecticut, Florida, and Massachusetts.

Massachusetts, long a top-performing U.S. state, demonstrated especially strong performance on the global stage: It scored better than the average for leading industrialized nations in all subjects.

Mitchell D. Chester, the education commissioner for Massachusetts, said the new PISA data “helped reinforce that our students are performing among some of the better-performing nations in the world, and it also made clear to me that we shouldn’t be complacent.”

Shanghai Tops Rankings

Among the 65 participating education systems, the highest performer in all three subjects was Shanghai, though the methodology around treating the Chinese city as a stand-alone system has raised eyebrows.

Overall, U.S. performance in reading and science was on par, as it was three years ago, with the average for the 34 industrialized nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. And once again, U.S. scores were below the OECD average in math.

“It’s a policy question whether one should be OK with average,” Mr. Buckley said. “I’d be more willing to tolerate our position if I saw that we were improving.”

The United States continued to have its strongest showing in reading, though there was no measurable change from its 2009 scores. On the PISA scale of 1 to 1,000, the nation scored 498 in reading, statistically similar to the OECD average of 496 and well below Shanghai’s 570.

Massachusetts scored 527 in reading, outperforming all but three education systems. Connecticut came in just behind its neighbor state. Florida’s score was not statistically different from the U.S. average.

While Americans’ reading scores were flat, 10 education systems have surpassed the United States in the subject since 2009, including Ireland, Chinese Taipei (Taiwan), Poland, Estonia, the Netherlands, and Germany.

The 2012 reading results seem “particularly dramatic,” Mr. Buckley said, because several countries that were tied with the United States in 2009 made just enough improvement to statistically edge ahead.

Countries that have demonstrated a “strong multiyear history of sustained improvement” include Germany and Poland, he noted. “That’s a very different trajectory than the U.S. has observed,” Mr. Buckley said.

In math, the United States scored 481, measurably lower than the OECD average. Poland, Vietnam, Austria, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Latvia, and Luxembourg all overtook the United States by statistically significant margins in the math standings for 2012, while Norway dropped behind.

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