For quite some time, the United States has been on a steady decline when it comes to education and where is ranks in the world. In a recent ranking of cognitive skills in students and education attained, the U.S. ranked 14 in the world. The achievement gap in the U.S. is helping to bring that world ranking down. The achievement gap is a measure that indicates disparity in education between certain groups. Those groups are usually broken up by race, or socioeconomic status. Because there is such disparity in the U.S., especially when it comes to economic status, the rankings that show the U.S. trailing 13 other countries in education could be misleading.
When it comes to testing, there is generally a greater sampling of underprivileged children representing the U.S. than in any other country. This would make sense because the U.S. has more under privileged children in its educational system. More than any other country ranking higher than them. For the world rankings in education to be fair, a common sampling should need to be represented by all countries.
Results from international testing like the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) are often misleading. The tests do not offer any control factors when it comes to achievement-gap-determining factors like a student’s socioeconomic background. Factors like this would be important in keeping a level playing field. However, tests like the PISA simply do not group or accurately show regard for these differences. Also, there are times when a sampling error occurs, when compiling test scores. In a recent PISA test, there was an error where students from disadvantaged schools were over-represented in the final tallies after the fact. Sample scoring is how these world rankings are drawn up, so an error like this would ultimately bring U.S. rankings down.
This is not to say that other countries do not have students affected by the achievement gap. They do exist, but at a much smaller percentage in comparison to the U.S. For this reason, underprivileged students in other countries have much less of an impact on those country’s final scores. It is believed that if the U.S. had a similar socioeconomic sampling to that of a country like France, or the United Kingdom, there would be a higher PISA scoring, and ultimately a better world ranking. Both of these factors clearly show how the achievement gap has played a major influence in the U.S. being ranked at 14.
Here is an interesting statistic: When it comes to students from disadvantaged schools in the U.S., they perform significantly better than disadvantaged students from other highly-ranked countries in reading. In subjects like math and science, these students do about the same. When it comes to the achievement gap, and testing across all countries, the disadvantaged students in the U.S. pitted against the disadvantaged students of the world would do just as well, if not better.
The U.S. spends more money per student than most other countries; however that does not mean that this money is getting to the root of the problem. Conclusions are often drawn by policymakers who sit on the boards which make decisions based on international test scores and world rankings. There is often a knee-jerk reaction, and money gets misappropriated, or unnecessary programs are started that do not truly address the issues at hand. Work must be done on tightening standards of international testing in regards to the achievement gap, before people can start looking at world rankings. Anything else would be unfair.
Opinion by Alec Rosenberg
NPR: U.S. Students Slide In Global Ranking On Math, Reading, Science
Economic Policy Institute: What do international tests really show about U.S. student performance?
Image Courtesy of Bill Lyons’ Flickr Page – Creative Commons License