US Math Scores Hit All-Time Low On International Exam


American students scored an all-time low in math on a major international exam, which provided the first comparison of global achievement since the pandemic radically changed education around the world.

According to data released Tuesday, American 15-year-olds had a 13 point plunge out of 1000 on the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) exam, which was given last year to 620,000 students in 81 countries worldwide.

These results are another piece of evidence showing the crisis in mathematics achievement,” said Peggy Carr, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, in a statement to WaPo. “Only now can we see that it is a global concern.

“These results put U.S. achievement in an international context at a very important time in our history.”

From an average of 478 out of 1,000 in 2018, the U.S. math scores tumbled to 465 in 2022, marking an 18-point drop since the first exam in 2003. Countries typically known for their strong performance in math, such as Iceland, Norway, Poland, and Slovenia, also experienced significant declines.

Relatively winning…

That said, while the US’s performance hit a new low in a vacuum, the relative ranking of the United States improved vs. other countries, even in math – where it’s now 6th among the 81 countries in reading vs. 8th in 2018, 10th in science vs. 11th, and 26th in math vs. 29th.

Notably, performance in reading and science remained stable.

The PISA exams, conducted every three years and delayed this time due to the pandemic, are a barometer of literacy among 15-year-olds in math, science, and reading. Coordinated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), these tests gauge how well students apply what they’ve learned, both in and out of the classroom.

One notable aspect is that the U.S. students reported longer school closures during the pandemic compared to other OECD countries. Yet, Carr says that the link between school closures and performance is weak, suggesting deeper underlying issues in the education system.

The pandemic-influenced performance on PISA was not unlike that of the country’s foremost standardized tests, called NAEP, for National Assessment of Educational Progress. Carr noted that both showed a “very parallel, significant decline.”

According to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, the rising relative ranking comes “at an extremely tough time in education,” but that “these results also show that we can’t be satisfied with the status quo in education.” He also called for higher-level math classes, teacher training, strategies to close learning gaps, STEM initiatives, and other efforts to address this critical issue.

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