The good news: A new report shows that as test-takers, teens from countries across the globe have made vast improvements over the last 10 years. The bad news? Looks like U.S. teens aren't exactly in that camp. And it's not because our kids are performing worse than they used to; it's just that the rest of the world is ... well, getting better—while we've stalled.
According to the Program for International Student Assessment report, American teens tested pretty much middle-of-the-road in subjects like reading, math and science. On the flip side, countries like Poland, Germany and Ireland—regions not normally known for their test-taking prowess—showed impressive gains. Even more noteworthy was the fact that this was the first year kids in Vietnam were ever tested, and they scored among the world's best.
All that may be true. The report blatantly calls out that the U.S. ranked "below average" in math, and is ranked somewhere around 26th in the world. We also rank 17th in reading and 21st in science. Not exactly promising stats for the future leaders of America.
Also not so promising? One of the key findings in the report stated:
Students in the United States have particular weaknesses in performing mathematics tasks with higher cognitive demands, such as taking real-world situations, translating them into mathematical terms, and interpreting mathematical aspects in real-world problems.
There are many within the education field who are up in arms over the results—like Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. "Today’s PISA results drive home what has become abundantly clear," she said in a video released by the AFT. "While the intentions may have been good, a decade of top-down, test-based schooling created by No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top—focused on hyper-testing students, sanctioning teachers and closing schools—has failed to improve the quality of American public education," she said. "Sadly, our nation has ignored the lessons from the high-performing nations."
Still, there are those who say the results aren't a total cause for alarm.
And as Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America, noted, "These results show us what's possible for countries to achieve, and they also show that some countries continue to improve, which should give us all a sense of possibility. That's where you can find the real insight."