OECD Says U.S. Not Making Many Gains in Improving Student Achievement

A recent study by Education Next says that states have raised their proficiency standards since 2011 when many states began implementing the Common Core. The authors cautioned, though, that raising proficiency goals was not the same as raising individual student achievement. Examining PISA results from 2003 - 2012, a new OECD report shows that the U.S. has a long way to go. From 2003 to now, the number of low performers (scoring a 2 or less) in mathematics and in reading has not changed since PISA 2003. More important, the United States has a larger proportion of low performers in mathematics than the OECD average.

Report highlights

  • In 2012, 26% of students in the United States were low performers in mathematics (OECD average: 23%), 17% were low performers in reading (OECD average: 18%), 18% were low performers in science (OECD average: 18%), and 12% were low performers in all three of these subjects (OECD average: 12%).
  • About 37% of 15-year-old students in the United States attend schools where 30% or more of the students are low performers in mathematics, about 12% attend schools where half or more of the students are low performers in mathematics, and about 1% attend schools where 80% or more of the students are low performers.
  • Students in the United States attending schools where mathematics teachers have lower morale are, on average, 21% more likely to be low performers than students who attend schools where teachers have higher morale, after accounting for students’ and schools’ socio-economic status (OECD average: 7% more likely).
  • In the United States, students attending schools where there are fewer creative extracurricular activities available for students were, on average, 54% more likely to be low performers in mathematics than students in schools where more of these activities were available, after accounting for students’ and schools’ socio-economic status (OECD average: 9% more likely).

The OECD study includes several recommendations, including tackling key problems identified in a recent UN report on U.S. African Americans: provide targeted support to disadvantaged schools and/or families; offer special programs for immigrant, minority-language and rural students; tackle gender stereotypes and assist single-parent families; and reduce inequalities in access to early education and limit the use of student sorting.

“Countries as economically and culturally diverse as Brazil, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Poland, Portugal, the Russian Federation, Tunisia and Turkey reduced their share of low performers in mathematics between 2003 and 2012,” states the report. “What do these countries have in common? Not very much: their respective shares of low performers in 2003 differed widely, as did their economic performance during the period. But therein lies the lesson: all countries can improve their students’ performance, given the right policies and the will to implement them.”

Read Low-Performing Students: Why They Fall Behind and How To Help Them Succeed – Country note: United States, OECD (Feb. 10, 2016)

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Education Policy