Latest International Test Shows American Performance Is . . . About the Same as Always

The results of the latest PISA test are out, and since a picture is worth a thousand words, here’s a picture:

The PISA test is administered by the OECD every three years to 15-year-olds, and roughly speaking American kids have been doing about the same on it for a couple of decades. However, what’s unique about PISA is that it’s an international test, which means we get to compare ourselves to other countries and then wail about how poorly we’re doing. Here are our scores on the reading test compared to a small subset of our peer countries:

Not too bad! Canada is the outlier here, but we’re at the top end of the cluster of other countries. Now here’s math:

Not so good! Japan is the unsurprising winner, and the US is bringing up the rear as it usually does. PISA’s approach to math is a little unusual, so every three years there’s a tedious discussion about whether this is the reason American kids don’t do very well even though they do fine on other math tests. Personally I don’t know. But we sure seem to fill up Silicon Valley and Wall Street with quants and coders every year.

As always when I venture into OECD territory, I conclude that the whole test is a sham and the real test is whether or not you can figure out how to use the OECD’s data tools. I’ll give myself a B- this time around. However, you can also browse around the results on the Department of Education’s site, which includes comprehensive league tables that compare the US to the entire set of other countries that participate in PISA. Good luck!

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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