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Home The News US Students Lag Behind in Math & Science 2004

US Students Lag Behind in Math & Science 2004

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Compared with their peers in Europe, Asia and elsewhere, U.S. 15-year-olds are below average when it comes to applying math skills to real-life tasks, new test scores show.

math literacy 2004

The U.S. students were behind most other countries in overall math literacy and in every specific area tested in 2003, from geometry and algebra to statistics and computation.

The latest scores from the Program for International Student Assessment also show that white U.S. students scored above average, while blacks and Hispanics scored below it. That achievement gap has become the focus of federal education policy.

Education Secretary Rod Paige called the new scores a "blinking warning light" as the Bush administration seeks to raise expectations and expand testing in high school.

The international test is not a measure of grade-level curriculum, but rather a gauge of the skills of 15-year-olds and how well students can apply them to problems they may face in life. It also aims to give the United States an external reality check about how it is doing.

One expert who reviewed the scores, Jack Jennings of the independent Center on Education Policy, said the test is more a measure of how math is taught than what students know. Many U.S. math classes teach analytical or theoretical thinking, not everyday math application.

"You could have American kids knowing more math, it's just that they may test lower than other countries because their learning is not geared toward practical application," he said.

By comparison, scale scores on the United States' own math test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, have risen sharply for fourth-graders and eighth-graders since 1990. That test, however, differs in its content and in that it is geared by grade, not by age.

The international assessment measures math, reading and science literacy among 15-year-olds every three years. This time, the main focus was math.

Among 29 industrialized countries, the United States scored below 20 nations and above five in math. The U.S. performance was about the same as Poland, Hungary and Spain.

When compared with all 39 nations that produced scores, the United States was below 23 countries, above 11 and about the same as four others, with Latvia joining the middle group.

"We cannot afford to let the skills of our students fall behind the skills of students in other nations," said Joseph Tucci, chairman of the education task force of the Business Roundtable, an association of chief executive officers from major U.S. corporations. The business group is calling for a renewed national commitment to science and math education.

The test is run by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a Paris-based intergovernmental group of industrialized countries. The top math performers included Finland, Korea, the Netherlands, Japan, Canada, Belgium, Switzerland and New Zealand.

Compared with peers from the OECD countries, even the highest U.S. achievers -- those in the top percent of U.S. students -- were outperformed.

U.S. scores held steady from 2000 to 2003 in the two math subject areas tested in both years. But both times, about two-thirds of the major industrialized countries did better.

Less clear is why, officials acknowledged.

Deputy Education Secretary Eugene Hickok said at a news conference Monday that contributing factors included too few qualified math teachers and not enough effort to engage students in math at an early age.

Private researchers and the federal government will help reveal some underlying lessons for the United States by doing more analysis of the numbers, said Robert Lerner, commissioner of the Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics.

Compared to 2000, there was no measurable change in the reading performance of U.S. students, or in the nation's average standing when compared to other OECD countries.

There was no change in science, either, in terms of the performance of U.S. students. But the U.S. score in science has now fallen below the international average.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Last Updated on Friday, 27 November 2009 02:34  


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