U.S. Students Still Trail Others in Science, Math

The song remains the same for American teens when it comes to science and mathematics: "We don't need no education."

Despite attempts in recent years to bolster education in fundamental areas, a major international study released today found that youngsters in the U.S. still lag behind their peers in the developed nations when it comes to the technical disciplines. Sponsored by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) study found that in standardized tests conducted in 30 industrialized countries American kids performed near the bottom of the ranks.

U.S. students recorded an average science score lower than the average in 16 other OECD nations; in math, American teens did even worse, posting an average score lower than the average in 23 of the other leading industrialized countries, according to a report today from the Associated Press.

The 2006 PISA tests given to 15-year-olds around the world focused primarily on science but included a mathematics portion, as well. There was no change in the math results among the U.S. teens compared to the findings recorded four years ago when the last PISA study was conducted, according to the AP. The science scores aren't comparable between 2003 and 2006, because the tests were not the same.

Interestingly, American girls and boys did about the same on the science and math portions of the test.

As far as international competition went, it was youngsters from Finland who performed at the top of the class in science and math, with their peers from Hong Kong, Canada, Taiwan, and South Korea rounding out the top five.

A press release from the OECD highlighting the results of the study stated that the PISA tests found that students in general were not particularly attracted to science and math:

While most students polled said they were motivated to learn science, only a minority aspired to a career involving science: 72% said it was important for them to do well in science; 67% enjoyed acquiring new knowledge in science; 56% said science was useful for further studies; but only 37% said they would like to work in a career involving science and 21% said they would like to spend their life doing advanced science.

The organization's leader, Secretary-General Angel Gurría, in his remarks in Tokyo today on the OECD findings said: "Successful learning experiences involve enabling environments at school, at home, everywhere. To get it right requires a deep understanding of how the system works. PISA is one of the tools at hand to improve performance, not only for policy makers but for all of us striving to give our children the best education we can. But getting it right also requires courage to take the right measures and to reform when needed."

Apparently, this message has not gotten through sufficiently to policy makers in the United States -- despite all the rhetoric of the last several years.

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