Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

American Students near the Top in Reading

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

American Students near the Top in Reading

Article excerpt

American students have not fared too well in international comparisons of math and science. The best finish ever, apparently, was third among 15 nations for 9-year-olds on the science test in the Second International Assessment of Educational Progress (IAEP-2), released by the Educational Testing Service in February 1992. I say "apparently" because many methodological and interpretational problems afflict these studies. Even the U.S. Department of Education, long a champion of the studies, says that we cannot be sure about the magnitude of the differences even after two decades of studies.

Among the things international researchers have noticed, however, is that, while Asian teachers emphasize mathematics, American teachers spend much more time on reading. Thus we might expect American students to do better in comparisons of reading ability than in comparisons of achievement in science and math. And they do.

In a study released in July by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, American 9-year-olds finished second among the children of 32 countries, trailing only Finnish students. Among 13-year-olds, American students placed ninth, but the scores of all other top-ranking countries are very close, with the exception of the front-running Finns. The difference between France (second place) and the U.S. (ninth place) is only 14 points on a 600-point scale. Interestingly, four of the top 10 countries, including Finland, do not begin formal instruction in reading until age 7. The report states that only 50% of the Finnish 7-year-olds can read when they begin school; by the time they are 9 they lead the world and continue to do so at age 13.

Although the report was published in July, it has had little impact here. Last February the math and science results of IAEP-2 were released at a large press conference, which drew much coverage. Apparently, the U.S. Department of Education did not want the good news about reading to be so widely known, and the report might have remained totally invisible in this country were it not for a German friend of a reporter at Education Week who sent him a copy that had been published in Germany. Education Week ran a long front-page story that was picked up in another front-page article by USA Today and a few other papers around the country. …

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