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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Math crisis is global: US teens do worse on PISA, but so do others

The bad news from international testing: U.S. 15-year-olds did significantly worse in math from 2018 to 2022 on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) exam, reports Sarah D. Sparks in Education Week. A third of American test takers demonstrated only basic or below-basic math skills.


Singapore's students ace international exams: 41 percent of 15-year-olds are "advanced" in math compared to 7 percent of Americans.

The good news: Most other countries lost even more. With the exception of Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Switzerland and Australia, math scores fell sharply around the world. On average, students lost the equivalent of three-quarters of a year of learning in math.


“These results are another piece of evidence showing the crisis in mathematics achievement, only now can we see that it is a global concern,’ said Peggy Carr, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which administers the PISA in the United States.


The U.S. moved up in international rankings. Coming in 22nd out of 38 developed countries in math isn't very impressive, but U.S. 15-year-olds ranked 26th out of all 81 PISA participants, moving up from 29th four years ago.


U.S. teenagers held relatively steady in reading and science, while most international peers lost ground, reports Sarah D. Sparks in Education Week. As a result, the U.S. ranked 6th in reading and 10th in science.


The big losers in PISA math were were Iceland (minus-36 points), Norway (minus-33 points), Poland (minus-27 points), and Slovenia (minus-24 points), reports Kevin Mahnken on The 74

"Fifteen-year-olds in Finland, which has built an international reputation for top performance on exams like PISA, saw a 30-point drop in reading skills over the last four years." (Finland's very high scores have been falling for more than a decade.)


"Among PISA’s top-scoring nations in math were East Asian participants like Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau, Japan, Chinese Taipei (Taiwan), and Korea," Mahnken writes. "Singapore, Ireland, Estonia, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan boasted the strongest readers."

Scores dropped more, especially in math, in places that kept schools closed longer, but the effect was small. Countries that opened schools quickly also saw learning losses.

U.S. schools don't enroll many high achievers in math. "Just 7 percent of U.S. students scored at the highest levels in math, compared with 23 percent in Japan and South Korea, and 41 percent in Singapore, the top-performing country," reports Sarah Mervosh in the New York Times.

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