U.S. teens are above average at problem solving

PISA Problem SolvingU.S. 15-year-olds score just above the world average on PISA’s “creative problem-solving” exam, but below students in Asia, Canada, Australia, Finland, Britain and other European countries.   

“Students might be asked to identify the cheapest lines of furniture in a catalog showing different brands,” reports the New York Times. “At a more advanced level, students could be asked to develop a process for figuring out why a particular electronic device was not working properly.

American students did well at “interactive” tasks that required them to find some of the information needed to solve the problem. “This suggests that students in the United States are open to novelty, tolerate doubt and uncertainty, and dare to use intuition to initiate a solution,” the O.E.C.D. said in a statement.

But Asian students — who typically do best in math and science exams — also outperformed the U.S. students on “interactive” problems. 

“To understand how to navigate a complex problem and exercise abstract reasoning is actually a very strong point for the Asian countries,” said Francesco Avvisati, an analyst. 

The results don’t support the U.S. reputation for creativity, writes Joy Resmovits in the Huffington Post. 

Critics say the top-performing Asian countries “aren’t teaching kids to think creatively and problem-solve,” author Amanda Ripley said. “Well, now we have a test that gets closer to measuring those skills than any other — and they are killing it. Again.”

Here are some sample questions.

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  1. PhillipMarlowe says:

    So what’s the breakdown by race and class for Americanos?

  2. PhillipMarlowe says:

    From the Huffington Post:
    “To some extent, the scores reflected socioeconomic status, with higher-income students besting their lower-income peers. That pattern held true internationally. “

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      The 64 trillion dollar question: how much is that pattern
      (observed internationally) due to things that can be changed (quality of schooling, opportunity to rise economically, access to therapy, etc.) and how much is due to things than can’t be changed (inborn smarts, temperament, etc.)?