A recent survey by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) compared students in 65 economies. PISA is an ongoing triennial survey which aims to evaluate education systems by assessing how students apply their knowledge to real-life situations. Student competencies are measured in reading, mathematics and science, with each year focusing on one of the three areas. In 2012 the focus was on math and in 2015 the focus will be on science. Results of the survey allow for comparison of students’ performance over time and are used to compare student performance between economies. Around 510,000 15-year-old students took part in PISA 2012.

Key findings include that among the 34 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) nations the United States *“performed below average in mathematics in 2012 and is ranked 26th (this is the best estimate, although the rank could be between 23 and 29 due to sampling and measurement error).”* The US ranks 21 out of 34 OECD countries in science, with a margin of error that has a range of 17-25th. In math, Shanghai-China was the top-performer. Performance in Shanghai-China *“is the equivalent of over two years of formal schooling ahead of those observed in Massachusetts, itself a strong-performing U.S. state.”*

Though the U.S. *“spends more per student than most countries, this does not translate into better performance.”* The Slovak Republic spends approximately USD 53,000 per student compared with the US, which spends over USD 115,000 per student however both countries performed at the same level. *“Socio-economic background has a significant impact on student performance in the United States, with some 15 percent of the variation in student performance explained by this,”* the study finds. Also of note, PISA found that the U.S. had* “the 6th largest proportion of students with an immigrant background”* of the economies included in the survey.

The OECD discussed the PISA results as they relate to the implementation of Common Core State Standards, standards that have been adopted by 45 states, the District of Columbia, four U.S. territories and the Department of Defense Education Activity. *“Students in the United States have particular weaknesses in performing mathematics tasks with higher cognitive demands, such as taking real-world situations, translating them into mathematical terms, and interpreting mathematical aspects in real-world problems. An alignment study between the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics and PISA suggests that a successful implementation of the Common Core Standards would yield significant performance gains also in PISA.”*

The PISA survey concluded that U.S. students are *“stronger in interpreting mathematical results than they are at formulating a real-world problem into mathematics…. Students in the United States have particular strengths in cognitively less-demanding mathematical skills and abilities…. They have particular weaknesses in items with higher cognitive demands.”*

*“Just over one in four U.S. students do not reach the PISA baseline Level 2 of mathematics proficiency - a higher - than OECD average proportion and one that hasn’t changed since 2003. At the opposite end of the proficiency scale, the U.S. has a below-average share of top performers.” *

Key findings from PISA include a comparison of school environments, accountability policies, assessments, resources, student engagement and drive.

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