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The United States Receives Average Rankings from PISA

The United States remained just average in reading and science, while lagging a bit in mathematics, according to the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) results.

All the rhetoric urging the U.S. education system to up the ante to remain competitive in a global economy came to a sobering point with the release of the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) results on Dec. 7, 2010. In 2009, the United States, along with 65 other countries, joined PISA to assess the performance of 15-year-old students in reading, mathematics and science. The United States remained just average in reading and science, while lagging a bit in mathematics on the global scale. The PISA results were released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental organization of industrialized countries.

The United States appeared strongest in reading assessments, with an average score of 500—close to the OECD average score of 493. Only six countries had higher scores. In terms of science, U.S. 15-year-olds scored 502, on par with the OECD average of 501. Where the United States slumped below average was in mathematics literacy, scoring 487, which was measurably lower than the OECD average of 496. Seventeen countries—a sizable amount—had a higher average than the United States in math.

"Being average in reading and science—and below average in math—is not nearly good enough in a knowledge economy where scientific and technological literacy is so central to sustaining innovation and international competitiveness," said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a statement following the release of the PISA results.

Compared to past PISA results, however, the United States has shown some improvements.

"The positive news is that the United States has stopped dropping in the international rankings, and there has been some improvement in the mean scores of all three subjects since the last assessment," says Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education. Wise also notes improvement among low-income students, 25 percent of whom tested in the top quartile.

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