The Reason Why PISA Math Scores Dropped

Posted by John D'amico on December 13, 2016

According to the Christian Science Monitor, U.S. math scores on the PISA (Program for International Students Assessment) in 2015 dropped significantly from the previous year. Between 2012 and 2015, U.S. teen math scores had our largest decrease since 2009. For the PISA tests given to high school students in 72 different countries, the United States ranked 40th place in general and 35th in mathematics.

The average student math score this past year was 470, which is 20 points below the general test average. Our math scores were actually the lowest in 2015 out of the three subjects on which we test students.

15-year-old students take the PISA every three years. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development started the 2-hour test in 2000. The main purpose of the exam is to see whether students can apply the information they learn in school to real-world problems. 540,000 students take the test worldwide, with 5,700 taking it here in the United States, mostly on computers.

And according to the Los Angeles Times, our math scores were 12 points below what they were in 2012 and 18 points below our 2009 scores. In fact, our PISA scores in general have been falling over the years. In 2012, the U.S. ranked 35th in the world. In 2009, we were 31st. And back in 2006, we were 25th in the world.

One interesting point that’s worth noting is that these PISA scores could appear to contradict another set of recent math scores from a test known as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study. We give this test to younger students every four years. And our scores on these exams have improved since both the 1990s and since 2007 with fourth and eighth graders.

But according to Peggy Carr, the acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, this is likely because it’s a different test for younger students. And it’s also worth noting that the PISA scores are more consistent with the results of the National Assessment of Education Progress.



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