When it comes to math and science, 15- and 16-year-old Blue Valley students are among the best in the world.
Results from an international exam taken by some 540,000 high school students around the globe were released Tuesday. And when compared to those scores, Blue Valley students outperformed every educational system in the world tested in math and science, except Shanghai, the most populous city in China.
That’s an improvement over where the district landed three years ago, when its scores were equivalent to those of the countries that ranked 10th in the world.
The Program for International Student Assessment was implemented in 2000. It measures student performance across about 72 countries and economies, including the United States, in math, reading and science.
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A random sampling of schools and a random sampling of students in those schools are tested to form each country’s representative group.
Blue Valley students were not among the sampling for the PISA, which publishes global results every three years. But every year since 2012, the Blue Valley district has had its own random sampling of students from each of its four high schools take this internationally prepared exam developed by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development. The district results are then compared to the PISA results.
“What differentiates this test from state assessments is it’s not just multiple choice,” said Lisa Wilson, director of assessment for Blue Valley. “It is not about what facts and figures a student can memorize, it’s about application of knowledge and critical thinking and problem solving, how to solve real-world problems.”
This is the first time in three years that Blue Valley has gotten fresh PISA information to see how its students stack up globally.
The international assessment is developed by representatives from 35 industrialized nations. Every three-year cycle, one academic subject is assessed more in depth than the others. This year, that subject was science.
Blue Valley students’ performance exceeded the U.S. national average for students scoring at the top level — near or at proficient.
Overall in math, reading and science, 15- and 16-year-old U.S. high school students who scored at proficient levels, as a group, lagged behind their peers in countries like China, Germany, Australia and Canada, according to the PISA results. The results were similar three years ago.
“The United States performed around average in science. ... Its performance was also average in reading, but below average in mathematics,” the latest report states.
Overall, the U.S. ranked 31st in math, 20th in reading and 19th in science.
Andreas Schleicher, the special adviser on education policy to the secretary general at the Organization of Economic Cooperation in Paris, said the U.S. results don’t match the nation’s education spending.
“The U.S. spends a large amount of money on education and students spend many more hours per week studying than other countries, without getting the results,” Schleicher said.
From the age of 6 to age 15, the U.S. spends an average of $115,180 per child, which is more than 20 percent more than the amount spent in Canada and Germany.
The average spent by the PISA-participating countries is $90,000 per student. Only five countries with data available — Luxembourg, Switzerland, Norway, Austria and Singapore — spend more per student than the United States.
Also, U.S. students spend more time learning than most of the other countries. Schleicher said U.S. school children spend about 28 hours a week in school and 20 hours after school. Consider Finland, where PISA scores are higher than in the U.S., and students get about 24 hours a week of in-school instruction and 12 hours out of school.
“It comes down to what is happening in the classroom,” said Jon Schnur, executive chairman of America Achieves, a nonprofit education advocacy organization.
But a highlight that emerged from the PISA data, he said, is that in the last three years, U.S. schools have made more progress in reducing the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and other students than participating education systems in any other part of the world.