EdChoice on the 2015 PISA Results: “Meh.”


Give the American K–12 education system another participation ribbon, this time for its latest results on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), a global measurement taken every three years that assesses 15-year-old students on reading, mathematics and science literacy.

We came; we took the test; and we got nowhere. We certainly didn’t conquer.

In fact, in math we got a lot worse. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), “[t]he U.S. mathematics literacy average score in 2015 was 12 points lower than the average score in 2012 and 18 points lower than the average in 2009.” Our mathematics literacy is now lower than 36 other countries—and 20 points lower than the OECD average.

Even worse, our top performing 15-year-old students on PISA are significantly below nations like Singapore and well below the OECD average. Only 6 percent of our 15-year-olds are considered top performers by PISA standards and 29 percent are considered low achievers (below proficiency).

So, almost 30 out of 100 American students are below basic, while only six out of 100 are above basic.

Perhaps the most disheartening news, though, came from American reading results. This quote, buried in the NCES press release says it all:

The U.S. reading literacy average score in 2015 was not measurably different from any earlier comparable time point (2000, 2003, 2009, and 2012).

Let me reiterate: Our current system of public education has not made any improvement in reading scores in 15 years.

Even though our scores put us ahead of 42 countries, they put us behind 14 countries. Just like our math scores, there are fewer 15-year-old students performing at the top on PISA than there are at the bottom. Only 10 percent of our 15-year-olds are considered top performers, while almost 20 percent were below proficiency.

We are simply not getting any better, and for 15 years, we have failed to improve on reading or math.

To quote my 17-year-old son, “Meh.”

I have been saying this for several years now: What we’ve been doing is not working, and it hasn’t for some time. No structural reform has been scaled broadly enough to truly transform American education, and neither are test scores the only or best barometer for judging schools.

Isn’t it time we finally put parents in charge?