Top US students decline, bottom students improve on international PISA math test

Distribution of scores in mathematics in PISA 2003 through 2012, by percentiles
  PISA 2012 Change in percentiles between 2003 and 2012
(PISA 2012 – PISA 2003)
 Percentiles 10th 25th 75th 90th 10th 25th 75th 90th
Score Score Score Score Score dif. Score dif. Score dif. Score dif.
United States 368 418 543 600 11 0 -6 -7

Source: OECD, PISA 2012, Annex B1 (Table I.2.3d)

Overall, the test score of the average US 15-year-old student hasn’t changed much in the past decade. PISA math scores for 2012 were 481, not that different from the 483 posted in 2003.

But that masks movement among different student groups. It turns out that the weakest 10 percent of US students have been steadily improving, gaining 11 points over the past decade. Meanwhile, the top two tiers of American students at the top 10th and top 25th of the nation are performing worse today than they did a decade ago, losing 7 points and 6 points respectively.

So I stand corrected from an earlier post where I wondered if US students were simply stagnating while students in other nations, especially in Asia, are learning more and improving year after year. Top US students are not only being outrun by their Asian peers, they’re sliding backwards.

I wonder if the pressure on US teachers to bring as many students as possible up to some sort of arbitrary “proficient” level on state assessments is exacerbating the problem at the top. In order to maximize the number of students that can hit a minimum threshold, instruction inevitable gets directed down toward the students who are just below average to help prop them up. Meanwhile, advanced students are being asked to repeat the basics over and over again and aren’t being pushed. It’s another argument for measuring learning gains or educational growth among all students and not how many kids can hit a certain threshold.

These PISA results, broken down by percentile, have me scratching my head a bit. Earlier national test data from NAEP showed that top students were improving more than bottom students. There were many examples of the bottom students slipping.

Related stories:

Top US students fare poorly in international PISA test scores, Shanghai tops the world, Finland slips

Washington DC and Tennessee post huge gains in math and reading in 2013 while nation shows small improvement

Low income students show smaller gains within Washington DC’s NAEP test score surge

POSTED BY Jill Barshay ON December 4, 2013

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