Math + test = trouble for US economy
First-of-its kind study shows US lags many other nations in real-life math skills.
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The survey comes a week before another set of results of global math performance, which could also cast the US as faltering. The results of the 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS), to be released next week, will report on fourth and eighth graders' proficiency in science and math.Skip to next paragraph
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Where the TIMMS test has been done before, in four year intervals, PISA's math testing began in 2003.
Of the 41 nations participating in PISA 2003, 25 ranked higher than the US average, including Korea, Japan, the Czech Republic, as well as Hong Kong and Macao in China. Only eight ranked measurably below the US: Greece, Turkey, Mexico, Thailand, Serbia and Montenegro, Uruguay, Indonesia, and Tunisia.
Most striking are the wide disparities in the US data among student groups:
• Black and Hispanic students scored significantly below whites, Asians, and students of more than one race in mathematics literacy and problem solving.
• Even the highest US achievers in mathematics literacy and problem solving were outperformed by their peers in industrialized nations. This contrasts with PISA results in a reading test done in 2000, where the US had a greater percentage of students at the highest level than the OECD average.
• Males outperformed females in mathematics literacy in the US and two-thirds of the other countries, but there were no measurable differences in problem-solving scores by sex in 32 out of 39 countries, including the US.
These results track findings that most US high school students don't know enough mathematics to do well in college courses or the work force. "Only 40 percent of high school graduates are prepared to earn a C or higher in a college level course, and these are also the same skills needed for the workplace," says Ken Gullette, a spokesman for ACT Inc. in Iowa City, a college entrance exam.
The study also comes amid heated debate over whether the US has enough skilled workers for the high-tech industry. At the urging of US business groups, Congress expanded the number of H1-B visas - designed to let US companies hire technology-proficient workers from other countries - by some 20,000 in 2005. The measure is included in a spending bill heading to President Bush this week.
"At a time when many companies can hire talent all over the world, there's a choice about whether to hire in the United States [or] go where the talent is. So it's absolutely essential for young Americans to leave high school prepared for college or the work world," says Ms. Traiman of the Business Roundtable.
"The PISA results are a blinking warning light," said US Secretary of Education Rod Paige in a statement. "It's more evidence that high standards and accountability for results are a good idea for all schools at all grade levels."
US 15-year-olds scored measurably better than their counterparts in only 3 of 30 nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in a new test of problem-solving in math. Below are results for 10 of the nations.
S. Korea 550
Czech Rep. 516
OECD average 500
Source: OECD Program for International Student Assessment, 2003