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In new report card, US students eke out a C

Arne Duncan called the study a “massive wake-up call.’’ Arne Duncan called the study a “massive wake-up call.’’
Washington Post / December 8, 2010

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WASHINGTON — After a decade of intensive efforts to improve its schools, the United States posted these results in a new global survey of 15-year-old student achievement: average in reading, average in science, and slightly below average in math.

Those middling scores lagged significantly behind results from several countries in Europe and Asia in the report this week from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

South Korea is an emerging academic powerhouse. Finland and Singapore continue to flex their muscles. And the Chinese city of Shanghai, participating for the first time in the Program for International Student Assessment, topped the 2009 rankings of dozens of countries and a handful of subnational regions.

US officials said the results show that the nation is slipping further behind its competitors despite years spent seeking to raise performance in reading and math through the 2002 No Child Left Behind law and a host of other reforms.

“For me, it’s a massive wake-up call,’’ Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Monday. “Have we ever been satisfied as Americans being average in anything? Is that our aspiration? Our goal should be absolutely to lead the world in education.’’

The Obama administration is likely to use the results to press Congress next year to rewrite the federal education law to prod states to do more to help the lowest-performing schools. Dozens of states have also approved new national academic standards that are meant to make US schools more competitive.

The organization’s testing program tracks the knowledge and problem-solving abilities of 15-year-olds every three years. The report released yesterday focused on reading ability and found that more than a dozen countries performed significantly better than the organization’s statistical average. The United States did not.