U.S. is above average in math, science

U.S. eighth graders in 36 states outperform the international average, reports the National Center for Education Statistics. In science, U.S. students in 46 states outscored the global competition.

However, even in the top-performing states — Massachusetts, Vermont and Minnesota — fewer U.S. students scored at the highest levels than students in several East Asian countries, notes the New York Times.

“It’s better news than we’re used to,” said David Driscoll, the chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for the national exams commonly known as the Nation’s Report Card. “But it’s still not anything to allow us to rest on our laurels.”

While 19 percent of eighth graders in Massachusetts, the highest-performing state, scored at the advanced level in math, close to 50 percent were advanced in South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan.

Twenty-four percent of Massachusetts students achieved the advanced level, compared with 40 percent in Singapore.

France, Germany, Denmark, China and India did not participate, notes Paul Peterson, a Harvard education professor.

This global math achievement graph, via Education Week, shows the U.S. tied with Britain. South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan — you sense a pattern perhaps — do the best.

In science, the top seven performers globally are: Singapore, Massachusetts, Taiwan, Vermont, South Korea, Japan and New Hampshire.

About Joanne


  1. Schools aren’t interested in challenging our most able and motivated kids; quite the opposite. Kids at the lowest levels receive disproportionate funding and programs for the most able and motivated are dropping like flies, especially at ES-MS levels. Vermont outlawed gifted and honors programs at all levels (still have AP, but open entry) decades ago and mandated full inclusion. A teacher relative there had kids in his HS class with mental ages of infants and toddlers, with all of the disruption that produces. At the same time, teachers were pushed to water down both the quantity and quality of assignments and to give almost all As and Bs. He took early retirement.

    The Common Core math standards have no pathway leading to HS calculus and the weak and flawed ES curricula don’t prepare kids for algebra and beyond. Nor do the reading/writing curricula and methods. In the push for ever-higher HS grad rates and college entrance, our high schools are graduating kids who are essentially illiterate and innumerate and colleges are admitting kids who can’t write a coherent paragraph.

    • Vermont must be doing something right. They have the second highest math scores in the nation, only Massachusetts is higher. In addition, the percentage of students that perform at the advanced level is quite high by international standards. Japan, Korea, Singapore, Taipei, and Hong Kong are the only nations that have a higher percentage of advanced students than Vermont.

      Either your relative is exaggerating, or meeting the needs of struggling students does not hurt high performers as much as you think. I suspect it is a little of both.

      • Most tests don’t discriminate all that well at the top (the reason that the SAT is likely to be used in 8th grade, for magnet HS applications) and those are the kids that formerly had the option of honors classes, at least at the 7-12 level. Yes, smart kids will do OK – my late FIL said that was a frequent meme when he started teaching in the 30s – but they won’t do as well as they could/should without challenging classwork.

  2. Crimson Wife says:

    If we want to compete in the global economy, then we can’t settle for just mediocre. Yes, we need to try to reduce the number of kids who score below average, but the really key issue is getting that percentage reaching the “advanced” level up to the highest-performing countries.

  3. momof4 and crimson wife,

    The U.S. won’t be able to compete globally within 25 years, as we will have defaulted on the national debt, and according to another article here, our 16 to 24 year olds aren’t faring very well against other economically advanced nations (we managed to beat out italy and spain in math and reading).

    Not much to show for a nation which developed the atomic and hydrogen bombs, and landed a man on the moon and returned him safely inside of a decade.


  4. Am I the only one to note that these scores represent the composite scores of the multiple nations (races? ethics?) that make up the US. It will only get worse as the country becomes majority-minority. Massachusetts, Vermont and Minnesota are nothing but code words for a smallr percentage of under-reprsentd minorities.

    • Richard Aubrey says:

      Some decades ago, the late (Sen.) Moynihan commissioned a study which, as he said, demonstrates that educational achievement is correlated more strongly with the propinquity of the state capital to the Canadian border than with per-pupil expenditure.

      • Minnesota does have subgroups which do not perform all that well; Native Americans, Hmong and Somali. Vermont has been taking in lots of sub-Saharan Africans – not sure from where. Other states close to the Canadian border, like SD and ND, have Native Americans who do poorly – it’s just that the numbers are relatively small. As RA implied, it’s not all that the public schools are so wonderful; it’s the students.

        • Crimson Wife says:

          I disagree that it’s purely demographics. I grew up in an affluent MA suburb populated by highly educated white collar professionals. I now live in an affluent CA suburb populated by highly educated white collar professionals. There are a lot more Asians here but the percentage of blacks & Hispanics is similarly very low.

          The public schools in my hometown are much, much better than the public schools where I live now. The per-pupil expenditure is almost 3 times as high and as a result they have small classes, art, music, foreign language in elementary, etc.

          Where I grew up, families used private schools for religious or philosophical reasons (my hometown is fairly close to the Sudbury Valley “free” school), not because the public schools were lousy. Where I live now, the parents who care about education try to avoid the public schools if at all possible.

  5. Anyone want to bet thatthe high performing countries use “drill and Kill” and memorization instead of whole language and project based learning?