Math Ranking Down, Reading Up for U.S. Students

In a recent Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) ranking, the U.S. fell in its math rankings from #34 to #36, while it went from not ranked in reading to #23, all in a 6 year time frame.  Big “surprises” are China which wasn’t surveyed in 2006, but leads both categories along with other Asian countries like Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan.  Canada is ranked #12 in math (down from #7) and #8 in reading (down from #4) from 2006-2012. This survey is based off of testing 15 year olds on basic academic skills.  One criticism that comes to mind, especially in countries like China, is that students only have to attend school for 9 years.  So, families, especially those in rural areas, often elect not to continue educating their children after 15.  This is a sample selection problem. In simple terms, the students tested by the PISA will only be the students whose families want to keep them in school, which usually includes the rich, smart, educated or those with highest educated earning potential.  The students who aren’t as smart or have a smaller potential to earn more money by continuing education drop out and work in the family business or on a farm. Therefore, the PISA rankings are slightly bias because they only sample China’s best students.  Now, a case can be made in other countries it is the same and I agree that it is true to some degree. In developed countries some states or provinces allow students to drop out also at 15 or 16, but high school drop out rates are small.  (They are roughly 7% in the U.S.) So, although this assessment is an indication of where countries rank side-by-side there are some issues with devising policy upon it.  Are there any other issues you see?


10 thoughts on “Math Ranking Down, Reading Up for U.S. Students

  1. I think that the rankings are definitely biased, but we do have very intelligent students all throughout the US. In all honesty, I don’t really think the rankings matter because we do produce so many intelligent students. I do agree that our math and reading skills could improve, not because we are ranked below China, but because a lot of US citizens’ skills are below average. We should focus more on what we need to do to improve rather than how China is using an unrepresentative population in these tests.

  2. I think that a very good point is made here. Most of the Chinese population forces smart children to continue with school and the lesser children are encouraged to not continue. This flaws the test rankings dramatically as children in the U.S will go almost no where in life without a high school diploma. Most kids in the U.S. begin to question whether or not they can succeed in high school by sophomore year. From there, they will either excel and continue to college , drop out , or even worse, push themselves through school barely passing just to get a degree. The system that China uses for education is much like many other places in Europe. One prime example being Germany. This makes us look bad when the testing only includes students that are placed in the upper schools and will continue their education where as in the U.S. many high school students only get a degree to get a job, and do so by having barely passing grades and test scores.

  3. the village population in China is more than city population. So there are many poor people who cannot get a good eduction. Most of these people are farmer. In the city, most of children have a good education and the teacher is severe to the children. usually they have at least 8 class everyday and have lots of homework. so parents think math is very important in the future. so Chinese is good at math. in America most of people have a good education. But I think American is pay attention to practice. they also do not have pressure for study. So i think this is why math ranking down.

    • Zishou,

      Can you clarify what you mean that Americans pay attention to practice and do not have the pressure to study?


  4. I agree with Bri completely. I remember hearing about these kind of rankings back in high school. People would comment on wanting to move because the US isn’t as good they’d say. It always got on my nerves because I believe there is little to no validity in these numbers. Every country has their ups and downs, better schools and less fortunate ones. The sample population for a test like this is incredibly important. Like Danielle said in her post, the only students tested in China were those of good family standing to be able to continue their education past 15 years old. This is the same as the US getting their test results from a private magnet school, it is just unrepresentative of the actual average of the country. Yes, we need to further ourselves but there is no use comparing to China or any other country for that matter because the data, in my opinion, is invalid and frankly unimportant. We need to focus on improving ourselves compared to out past selves.

    • Jordan,

      It is also important to note that often times in media they fail to mention the validity of the data. These reports have been circulating and many citizens put faith in these reports without questioning the data collection.


  5. Jordan raises a good point. If Chinese students are gauged based on how their best-educated or brightest students perform, the entire Chinese VS. American educational system debate might as well be considered completely irrelevant. While China assuredly has many thousands, if not millions, of very bright and capable students, American students of a strong educational background have proven themselves time and time again as qualified political, business, and international leaders. I feel that a more apt comparison would be the “top” American students VS. The “top” Chinese students. That way we can eliminate any outliers in data, and focus on the actual point of the study – finding out which country will produce the most or best potentially successful people.

    • Ryan,

      I think eliminating outliers is important in data, but anyone who is not the “top” student is not an outlier. Only the very worst students and very best students may very well be outliers. However, if we focus only on what you stated that we find out which may produce the most potentially successful people than maybe throwing out all data that is not in the “top” is best?


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