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U.S. students still only average on tests

American high school students still post only average scores on a key skills test administered to kids in 65 countries across the industrialized world.

After more than a decade of comparisons, U.S. students scored just below the international average in math, which was the focus of this year’s test. Results from the Program for International Student Assessment are being released Tuesday.

The test, given every three years, examines how well 15-year-olds can apply math, reading and science to real-world situations.

The U.S. average is about even with countries such as Norway, Portugal, Italy, Spain and Russia. Other countries such as Singapore, Finland and South Korea scored well above the international average.

What’s perhaps most revealing is that a few unlikely countries such as Vietnam, Ireland and Poland are now among the top scorers, says Jack Buckley, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, the federal agency that collected and analyzed the U.S. data.

Buckley notes that Ireland and Poland in 2009 scored comparably with the USA but have now outpaced it in all three subjects. Vietnam, which participated this year for the first time, outscored the USA in math and science, but not reading.

"Math is our national weakness at every socioeconomic level," says Amanda Ripley, author of the recent book The Smartest Kids in the World, which examines why a few countries are outperforming U.S. students on tests such as the PISA, while other nations such as the USA barely improve.

She notes that even the USA’s top socioeconomic fourth of students perform below their peers in 27 other countries. “That’s a remarkable piece of data that shows you we do have a problem in math — and it’s not just our low-income kids.”

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    Maybe our culture should stop making fun of people who are good at math, stop acting like math is too hard for...
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