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US students continue to lag in math, as Singapore leads global survey

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American students remain average in science and reading, according to new OECD survey

General Election - Education Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Students in Singapore are the world’s top performers in math, science, and reading, according to an international education survey released today, as teenagers in many East Asian countries continue to out-perform those in other parts of the world. US students performed at average levels in science and reading, compared with other developed countries, but they continue to lag in math, according to the survey.

The findings were announced today with the release of the Program for International Assessment (PISA) report, a survey of 540,000 15-year-old students in 72 countries and economic zones. The survey is administered every three years by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an international body comprised mostly of developed countries.

Science was the primary focus of this year’s PISA report, which was conducted in 2015. Since 2006, the last time PISA focused on science, education spending per-student has increased by 20 percent in OECD countries. But performance in science improved in only 12 of the 72 countries assessed in the latest report, according to the OECD.

“A decade of scientific breakthroughs has failed to translate into breakthroughs in science performance in schools,” Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary General, said in a speech in London on Tuesday. “Every country has room for improvement, even the top performers.”

Singaporean students performed best across all three categories, followed by Japan, Estonia, Chinese Taipei, and Finland. The US ranked 25th, behind the UK, Germany, and Australia, but ahead of France, Sweden, and Italy. In the last PISA report, released in 2013, the US ranked 36th out of 65 countries. US performance in science, math, and reading has been stable since 2006, the report says. The US survey was based on an assessment administered to students in North Carolina and Massachusetts.

OECD

This year’s PISA report also examined gender differences in science education. Across OECD countries, 25 percent of boys and 24 percent of girls surveyed in 2015 expect to work in a science-related field by the time they’re 30 years old. But they expect to work in very different fields. On average, boys in OECD countries are twice as likely to expect to work as engineers, scientists or architects, whereas girls are three times more likely to expect careers in healthcare. Just 0.4 percent of girls expect to work in the IT sector, compared with 4.8 percent of boys.

“Gender stereotypes about scientists and about work in science-related occupations can discourage some students from engaging further with science,” the report reads.

“Schools can counter these stereotypes, and help both boys and girls cultivate a wider perspective on science, including through better career information. Employers and educators in perceived ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ fields can also help eliminate existing stereotypes by underscoring the close inter-relationships among the numerous fields of science.”