“These 2011 international assessments provide both encouraging news about our students’ progress and some sobering cautionary notes.
“The encouraging news is that U.S. fourth grade students have made significant progress in reading and mathematics in the last five years, and our fourth graders now rank among the world’s leaders in reading literacy.
“It is also rewarding to see that students in highly-diverse states like Florida, Massachusetts, and North Carolina excelled internationally in a number of subject areas, showing that demography is not destiny in our schools. State and local policy matter—and can have a powerful influence in advancing or slowing educational progress. These new assessments put to rest the myth that America’s schools cannot be among the world’s top-performing school systems. In fact, eighth graders in Massachusetts performed below only one country in the world in science, Singapore.
“At the same time, these new international comparisons underscore the urgency of accelerating achievement in secondary school and the need to close large and persistent achievement gaps. Learning gains in fourth grade are not being sustained in eighth grade—where mathematics and science achievement failed to measurably improve.
“That is unacceptable if our schools are to live up to the American promise of giving all children a world-class education. Given the vital role that science, technology, engineering, and math play in stimulating innovation and economic growth, it is particularly troubling that eighth-grade science achievement is stagnant and that students in Singapore and Korea are far more likely to perform at advanced levels in science than U.S. students.
“A number of nations are out-educating us today in the STEM disciplines—and if we as a nation don’t turn that around, those nations will soon be out-competing us in a knowledge-based, global economy.”