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Politics & Current Affairs

Why American Student Performance Rankings May Be Skewed

Surveys that compare student test scores from different countries often fail to take socioeconomic differences into account, say the authors of a new study.

What’s the Latest Development?

A report released Wednesday by the Stanford Graduate School of Education and the Economic Policy Institute suggests that when socioeconomic factors are adequately considered in international comparisons of student performance, the US is much closer to the top of the list than is normally reported. Researchers examined reading and mathematics test results from four series commonly given to adolescent students in the US and six other countries. According to the report, scores on one test were lower for American students “partly because a disproportionately greater share…[came] from disadvantaged social class groups, whose performance is relatively low in every country.” 

What’s the Big Idea?

However, the report also noted that the achievement rates of economically disadvantaged American students has been rising rapidly over time, while those of similarly disadvantaged students in other countries has been falling. Also, American students in the highest socioeconomic class group still do worse than their peers overseas, and the gap between the two has in fact widened over time. In general, report co-author Martin Carnoy says, “Policymakers should understand how our lower and higher social class students perform in comparison to similar students in other countries before recommending sweeping school reforms.”

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