The 2012 standings of 15-year-old U.S. students in math tests designed by the Program for International Student Assessment may induce attitudes of either concern or benign indifference. The U.S. average score of 481 points can be compared with the overall average of 494 points for all Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development nations or, for example, with the Germany student average of 514 points. It is not the “points” that matter in assessing progress, but the appropriately normalized difference in these points from year to year.
Concern is an appropriate response. In a longer letter, it could be proven that the quantitative knowledge of the subject matter by an average OECD student is about 11 percent more than for an average U.S student, and that the knowledge of the average German student is about 30 percent greater. In the 2009 test, the knowledge of the average OECD student was only 7 percent greater. So there has, indeed, been quantifiable, relative slippage by U.S. students. Properly normalized PISA gaps also match up well with U.S. National Assessment of Educational Progress tests. We, as a nation, cannot delude ourselves about progress being achieved because “point” scores on internally generated “local” tests have been increasing.
William T. Lynch