Fourth- and eighth-grade students in the United States continue to lag behind students in several East Asian countries and some European nations in math and science, although American fourth graders are closer to the top performers in reading, according to test results released on Tuesday.
Fretting about how American schools compare with those in other countries has become a regular pastime in education circles. Results from two new reports, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study and the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, are likely to fuel further debate.
South Korea and Singapore led the international rankings in math and fourth-grade science, while Singapore and Taiwan had the top-performing students in eighth-grade science. The United States ranked 11th in fourth-grade math, 9th in eighth-grade math, 7th in fourth-grade science and 10th in eighth-grade science…
In the United States, only 7 percent of students reached the advanced level in eighth-grade math, while 48 percent of eighth graders in Singapore and 47 percent of eighth graders in South Korea reached the advanced level. As those with superior math and science skills increasingly thrive in a global economy, the lag among American students could be a cause for concern.
“Clearly, we have some room to improve, particularly at the number of advanced students we have compared to the world,” said Jack Buckley, the commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics at the Education Department…
The test designers included questionnaires for parents about preparation before formal schooling. Ina V. S. Mullis, an executive director of the International Study Center, said that students whose parents reported singing or playing number games as well as reading aloud with their children early in life scored higher on their fourth-grade tests than those whose parents who did not report such activities. Similarly, students who had attended preschool performed better.
“What’s remarkable is that in all the countries, this concept of an early start is there over and over again,” said Michael O. Martin, the other executive director of the center. “You can get the early childhood experience in a variety of ways, but it’s important you get it.”
I won’t drive you nuts with tales of trudging through knee-deep snow to get to-and-from elementary school. Though it was true. Growing up in a factory town where the mayor – who held office 22 years – said, “The Lord put the snow on the ground, let him take it away!” That solved the question of snow plows.
What was important to me was that my parents spent time with me – teaching me to read by the time I was 4 years old. They made certain we played board games, learned enough early maths to play Monopoly, worked hard at instilling an appreciation of knowledge and learning.
Even Finland, one of the world-leaders referred to this article, makes certain intellectual stimulation is part of the regimen of play and socialization they provide through creches and community life – while at the same time they maintain their rule of no organized schooling until children are 6 or 7.