Based on the results of recent international assessments, measures of students’ and adults’ skills and abilities in reading, mathematics, and science present a mixed picture (table 10). U.S. students perform relatively well in reading literacy compared with their peers around the world, including those in highly industrialized countries (based on PIRLS and PISA data). In addition, U.S. students perform relatively well in mathematics at the lower grades compared to their peers in other countries—though the data suggest that their performance may not be keeping pace with that of their peers—and are showing improvement in the middle school years (based on TIMSS data). However, when older U.S. students are asked to apply what they have learned in mathematics, they demonstrate less ability than most of their peers in other highly industrialized countries (based on PISA data). In science, U.S. students also perform relatively well at the lower grades compared with their peers in other countries—though, again, the data suggest that their performance may not be keeping pace with their peers—and are showing improvement in the middle school years (based on TIMSS data). This progress, though, may not carry over to tasks that are embedded in a real-life context: when asked to apply scientific skills, U.S. 15-year-olds performed worse than about half of their international peers (based on PISA data). Data on the literacy and numeracy skills of U.S. adults in comparison with their peers from other countries are fairly limited, but suggest that the skills of U.S. adults do not compare favorably (based on ALL data).
Future data collections for TIMSS, PIRLS, and PISA will provide additional opportunities to compare the performance of U.S. students in mathematics, science, and reading to international benchmarks.
Figures and Tables
Table 10: U.S. performance on international assessments of mathematics, science, and reading relative to other countries