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Slipping PISA Scores Speak to Need for Applied Skills

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December 3, 2013

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Slipping PISA Scores Speak to Need for Applied Skills

The United States has fallen farther behind its fellow OECD countries in the performance of 15-year-olds on reading, science and math assessments. American 15-year-olds ranked 17th in reading, 21st in science and 26th in mathematics among the 34 OECD countries in the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

The U.S. slipped from its rankings in the 2009 PISA, although average student scores were not measurably different from average scores in previous years. A number of non-OECD countries and provinces as well as three U.S. states also participated in the 2012 PISA. Shanghai-China, Singapore and Hong Kong-China were the top performers in all three domains. Massachusetts and Connecticut performed above the nation as a whole in math, while Florida lagged.

The PISA not only measures basic competencies but also requires students to apply what they have learned to problems set in real-world contexts; this focus is similar to the recent OECD Survey of Adult Skills, in which the U.S. also performed below the average. A greater focus on rigorous CTE integrated with academics in deeper, real-world learning could be the key to unlocking the potential of U.S. youth and adults. In addition, further analysis of this newly released PISA data may show, as with the Survey of Adult Skills, significant proficiency gaps between the high and low end of the socioeconomic ladder.  

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