Catching up to the world? Not so much

Despite gains in reading, math and science, U.S. students remain in the middle of the international pack, concludes a Harvard analysis in Education Next.

From 1995 to 2009, the U.S. ranked 25th out of 49 nations in fourth- and eighth-grade test score gains in math, reading, and science. In the fastest improving countries, Latvia, Chile, and Brazil, students are improving at nearly three times the U.S. rate. Portugal, Hong Kong, Germany, Poland, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, Colombia, and Lithuania are improving at twice the rate of U.S. students.

Over the 14-year period, U.S. fourth- and eighth-graders raised their NAEP scores by nearly “the equivalent of one additional year’s worth of learning.”

Yet when compared to gains made by students in other countries, progress within the United States is middling, not stellar. While 24 countries trail the U.S. rate of improvement, another 24 countries appear to be improving at a faster rate. Nor is U.S. progress sufficiently rapid to allow it to catch up with the leaders of the industrialized world.

Within the U.S., Maryland, Florida, Delaware, and Massachusetts improved at two to three times the rate of Iowa, Maine, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin.

A fraction of the U.S. gains can be attributed to “catch-up” theory:  Low achievers have more room for improvement. Spending more on education had little effect.
. . . on average, an additional $1000 in per-pupil spending is associated with an annual gain in achievement of one-tenth of 1 percent of a standard deviation. But that trivial amount is of no statistical or substantive significance. Overall, the 0.12 correlation between new expenditure and test-score gain is just barely positive.

The gains in elementary and middle school fade by high school, the authors write. U.S. 17-year-olds have shown “only minimal gains” over the past two decades

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