Skip Navigation

2009 Spotlight

U.S. Performance Across International Assessments of Student Achievement

Synthesis of reading results

Only one country, Sweden, has consistently outperformed the United States in reading at grade 4 (see supplemental table A-1). However, between 2001 and 2006, when U.S. 4th-graders' scores did not measurably change, the reading scores of their peers improved in 8 countries. The gains made by 5 of these countries (Hong Kong, Hungary, Italy, the Russian Federation, and Singapore) brought the total number of countries that outperformed the United States in 2006 to 10. These gains were evident even among the best-performing students. Between 2001 and 2006, the percentage of U.S. 4th-graders who reached the Advanced benchmark did not measurably change. In contrast, the percentage of students who reached the Advanced benchmark increased in the Russian Federation from 5 to 19 percent, in Hong Kong from 5 to 15 percent, in Singapore from 12 to 19 percent, and in Hungary from 10 to 14 percent (Mullis et al. 2007, exhibit 2.2).

Six countries outperformed U.S. 15-year-old students in reading in both 2000 and 2003 (Australia, Canada, Finland, Ireland, Korea, and New Zealand). In addition, although the scores of U.S. 15-year-old students did not measurably change between 2000 and 2003, U.S. students fell behind their peers in 3 countries where scores improved (Liechtenstein) or did not measurably change (Belgium and Sweden) (figure 4), which brought the total number of countries outperforming the United States to 9 (among countries that participated in both 2000 and 2003) (see supplemental table A-2). Because of the lack of valid 2006 PISA reading scores for the United States, we do not know how many countries outperformed the United States in 2006, nor do we know whether the reading achievement of U.S. 15-year-olds changed between 2003 and 2006 or, once again, remained stable. However, it is clear that the performance of some countries has steadily improved since 2000, both on average and among the top 10 percent of students. 27

Continue to the next section

27 For example, in Korea, the cutpoint score for the top 10 percent of 15-year-olds improved by 26 points between 2000 and 2003 (when there was no measurable change in the cutpoint score of the top 10 percent of U.S. 15-year-olds), and by 55 points between 2000 and 2006 (OECD 2007, table 6.3c).