By Lindsay Garten
The Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA test, is administered to 15 year-old students around the world every three years to test their ability in math, science and reading. Although many might be led to believe that students in United States would do well on these tests, that simply is not the case.
Although the United States spends $15,171 per pupil, well above the OECD average of $9,131, one would not suspect this after looking at its PISA scores. In addition to spending the most per pupil, the U.S. also spends 7.3 percent of its GDP on education, while other OECD countries spend an average of 6.3 percent. In terms of higher education though, the United States leads the world with eight out of the top 10 best Universities. So it would only make sense for arguably the most powerful country in the world to do well on this test.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the OECD average on the mathematics section of the 2012 PISA exam, was 494 points, with the top scoring country, Shanghai-China, achieving a score of 613 points. Other top countries included Singapore, Hong Kong-China, Chinese Taipei and South Korea, with scores of 573, 561, 560 and 554 respectively. The United States however, scored a low 481, which means it ranks as the 36th best country. The results for the science literacy section of the test were similar, with the United States scoring 497, four points below the OECD average, coming in at 28th place.
So why does the country with this highest GDP per capita, that spends the most on education, and has some of best university’s in the world, do poorly on the PISA exam?
Jack Buckley, commissioner at the National Center for Education Statistics, told the Washington Post in a 2013 article, that the United States’ diversity and high child poverty rate are contributing factors to the underperformance of students in the United States.
So what are some of the other factors? According to Anna Maria Chavez, the CEO of Girl Scouts USA, in a Huffington Post op-ed, there needs to be more of an emphasis on STEM education, especially among women.
“Younger girls express high levels of interest in STEM, but that interest tapers off as girls reach the middle school and early high school years, and girls are often discouraged by society, both actively and passively, from pursuing their interest in these fields,” she wrote in her op-ed. “By nurturing and encouraging girls' early interest in STEM and making it fun for them, we can keep them engaged, help them perform better in school and ultimately, encourage them to pursue careers in STEM fields.”
To further bolster Chavez’s point, in 37 out of 65 countries and economies, boys scored higher than girls, with girls outperforming boys in: Jordan, Qatar, Thailand, Malaysia and Iceland.
This should be a clear wake-up call to the United States that something has to change. Maybe it’s encouraging more women to get into STEM fields, better training for our teachers, or even further educational reform. We desperately need more people in science and technology jobs, as our climate is changing and the world becomes increasingly globalized. Something has to change and we need to jump on it before its too late.
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